Oct 122017
 
 October 12, 2017  Posted by at 2:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Fan Ho East meets west 1963

 

For those of you who don’t know Andy Xie, he’s an MIT-educated former IMF economist and was once Morgan Stanley’s chief Asia-Pacific economist. Xie is known for a bearish view of China, and not Beijing’s favorite person. He’s now an ‘independent’ economist based in Shanghai. He gained respect for multiple bubble predictions, including the 1997 Asian crisis and the 2008 US subprime crisis.

Andy Xie posted an article in the South China Morning Post a few days ago that warrants attention. Quite a lot of it, actually. In it, he mentions some pretty stunning numbers and predictions. Perhaps most significant are:

“only China can restore stability in the global economy”

and

“The festering political tension [in the West] could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.”

Here are some highlights.

 

The bubble economy is set to burst, and US elections may well be the trigger

Central banks continue to focus on consumption inflation, not asset inflation, in their decisions. Their attitude has supported one bubble after another. These bubbles have led to rising inequality and made mass consumer inflation less likely. Since the 2008 financial crisis, asset inflation has fully recovered, and then some.

The US household net worth is 34% above the peak in 2007, versus 30% for nominal GDP. China’s property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined. The world is stuck in a vicious cycle of asset bubbles, low consumer inflation, stagnant productivity and low wage growth.

Let that sink in. If Xie is right, and I would put my money on that, despite all the housing bubbles elsewhere in the world, the Chinese, who make a lot less money than westerners, have pushed up the ‘value’ of Chinese residential real estate so massively that their homes are now ‘worth’ more than all other houses on the planet. Xie returns to this point later in the article, and says: “In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. “.

We’ll get back to that. But it suggests that Chinese, if they spend half their income on housing, which is probably not that crazy an assumption, must work 100 to 200 years to pay off their mortgages. Again, let that sink in.

The US Federal Reserve has indicated that it will begin to unwind its QE assets this month and raise the interest rate by another 25 basis points to 1.5%. China has been clipping the debt wings of grey rhinos and pouring cold water on property speculation. They are worried about asset bubbles. But, if recent history is any guide, when asset markets begin to tumble, they will reverse their actions and encourage debt binges again. [..] most powerful people in the world operate on flimsy assumptions.

Despite low unemployment and widespread labour shortages, wage increases and inflation in Japan have been around zero for a quarter of a century. Western central bankers assumed that the same wouldn’t happen to them, without understanding the underlying reasons. The loss of competitiveness changes how macro policy works.

The mistaken stimulus has the unintended consequences of dissipating real wealth and increasing inequality. American household net worth is at an all-time high of 5 times GDP, significantly higher than the bubble peaks of 4.1 times in 2000 and 4.7 in 2007, and far higher than the historical norm of three times GDP. On the other hand, US capital formation has stagnated for decades. The outlandish paper wealth is just the same asset at ever higher prices.

That is the very definition of a bubble: “The outlandish paper wealth is just the same asset at ever higher prices.” American household net ‘worth’ is in a huge bubble, some 66% higher than the historical average. And that’s in a time when for many their net worth is way below that average, a time when more than half live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford medical bills and/or car repair bills without borrowing. And that is the very definition of inequality:

The inflation of paper wealth has a serious impact on inequality. The top 1% in the US owns one-third of the wealth and the top 10% owns three-quarters. Half of the people don’t even own stocks. Asset inflation will increase inequality by definition. Moreover, 90% of the income growth since 2008 has gone to the top 1%, partly due to their ability to cash out in the inflated asset market.

An economy that depends on asset inflation always disproportionately benefits the asset-rich top 1%. [..] Germany and Japan do not have significant asset bubbles. Their inequality is far less than in the Anglo-Saxon economies that have succumbed to the allure of financial speculation.

True, largely, but Japan both has major economic troubles today (deflation), and will have worse ones going forward (demographics). While Germany can unload its losses on the EU periphery (and does). Japan can’t ‘afford’ a housing bubble, its people have refused to raise spending for many years, scared as they are through stagnant wages and falling prices. While Germany doesn’t need a housing bubble to keep its economy growing: it exports whatever’s negative about it to its neighbors. China, however, DOES need bubbles, and blows them with abandon:

While Western central bankers can stop making things worse, only China can restore stability in the global economy. Consider that 800 million Chinese workers have become as productive as their Western counterparts, but are not even close in terms of consumption. This is the fundamental reason for the global imbalance.

Note: as we saw before, while the Chinese may not consume as much as Westerners when it comes to consumer products, they DO -on average- put a far higher percentage of their wages into real estate. And that is because Beijing encourages such behavior. The politburo needs the bubbles to keep things moving. And therefore creates them on purpose. Presumably with the idea that incomes will come up so much that all these homes become more affordable compared to wages. That looks like a big gamble.

Property costs of between 50 and 100 years of household income are not manageable, and rising rates and/or an outright crisis will expose that. And then on top of that, the government wants, needs, an ever bigger take of people’s incomes. Because its whole model is based on its investing in the economy, even if a large part of it is not efficient or profitable.

China’s model is to subsidise investment. The resulting overcapacity inevitably devalues whatever its workers produce. That slows down wage rises and prolongs the deflationary pull. [..] Overinvestment means destroying capital. The model can only be sustained through taxing the household sector to fill the gap.

In addition to taking nearly half of the business labour outlay, China has invented the unique model of taxing the household sector through asset bubbles. The stock market was started with the explicit intention to subsidise state-owned enterprises. The most important asset bubble is the property market. It redistributes about 10% of GDP to the government sector from the household sector. The levies for subsidising investment keep consumption down and make the economy more dependent on investment and export.

In order to prevent a huge real estate crash, Beijing will have to make sure wages rise, across the board, and substantially, for hundreds of millions of people. And there we get back to what Xie said above:

The government finds an ever-increasing need to raise levies and, hence, make the property bubble bigger. In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. China’s residential property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined.

The 800 million pound elephant here is that what Beijing pushes its citizens to put in real estate, they can no longer spend on other things. Their consumption will flatline or even fall. Unless the Party manages to raise their wages, but it would have to raise them by a lot, because it needs more and more taxes to be paid by the same wages.

And here’s where Andy Xie gets most interesting:

How is this all going to end? Rising interest rates are usually the trigger. But we know the current bubble economy tends to keep inflation low through suppressing mass consumption and increasing overcapacity. It gives central bankers the excuse to keep the printing press on.

In 1929, Joseph Kennedy thought that, when a shoeshine boy was giving stock tips, the market had run out of fools. Today, that shoeshine boy would be a genius. In today’s bubble, central bankers and governments are fools. They can mobilise more resources to become bigger fools. In 2000, the dotcom bubble burst because some firms were caught making up numbers. Today, you don’t need to make up numbers. What one needs is stories.

Those are some pretty impressive insights, and they go way beyond China. Today’s fools are not yesterday’s fools. Only, today’s fools have been given the rights, and the tools, to keep blowing ever larger bubbles. The only conclusion can be that when the bubbles burst, it’ll be much much worse than the Great Depression. And this time, China will blow up along with the west. Take cover!

Hot stocks or property are sold like Hollywood stars. Rumour and innuendo will do the job. Nothing real is necessary. In 2007, structured mortgage products exposed cash-short borrowers. The defaults snowballed. But, in China, leverage is always rolled over. Default is usually considered a political act. And it never snowballs: the government makes sure of it.

Can China continue to roll over its leveraged debt when the west is in crisis, is forced to heavily cut its imports, just as Beijing needs more tax revenue to keep its miracle model alive? WIll it be able to export its over-leverage and over-capacity through the new Silk Road project? It looks very doubtful. And we shouldn’t expect the Party Congress this month to address these issues. They know better.

Xie finishes with most original predictions. Class struggle in the US. It sounds like something straight out of Karl Marx, but perhaps we are already seeing the first signs today.

In the US, the leverage is mostly in the government. It won’t default, because it can print money. The most likely cause for the bubble to burst would be the rising political tension in the West. The bubble economy keeps squeezing the middle class, with more debt and less wages. The festering political tension could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.

Maybe class struggle is something we’ll see first in Europe, both at a national and at a pan-European level. Too many countries keep their systems humming not by being productive, but by encouraging their citizens to sink deeper into debt. Low interest rates may be attractive for signing up to new loans, but the ‘trajectory’ gets shorter all the time, because those same low rates absolutely murder savings and pensions.

The only thing that can keep the whole caboodle from exploding would be absolutely stunning economic growth at least somewhere in the world, but every single somewhere is far too deep in debt for that to happen.

Take cover.

 

 

Oct 122017
 
 October 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Piet Mondriaan Broadway boogie wooogie 1943

 

The Bubble Economy Is Set To Burst, US Elections Be The Trigger (Andy Xie)
Fed Divide On Inflation Intensified At September Policy Meeting (R.)
UK Resigned To Endless Productivity Gloom (Tel.)
The World Must Spend $2.7 Trillion on Charging Stations for Tesla to Fly (BBG)
Bullet Train Wheel Parts Made By Kobe Steel Failed Quality Tests (BBG)
General Motors Checking Impact Of Kobe Steel Data Cheating (R.)
De-dollarization Not Now (WS)
Xi’s Legacy May Rest on the World’s Biggest Infrastructure Project (BBG)
Retirement in Australia is Unrealisable For Most Workers (Satyajit Das)
With Brexit Talks Stuck, Britain Is Preparing For The Worst (BBG)
IMF Report Suggests New Greek Debt Measures Necessary (K.)

 

 

“In today’s bubble, central bankers and governments are fools. They can mobilise more resources to become bigger fools.”

“In addition to taking nearly half of the business labour outlay, China has invented the unique model of taxing the household sector through asset bubbles. The stock market was started with the explicit intention to subsidise state-owned enterprises.”

“China’s residential property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined.”

The Bubble Economy Is Set To Burst, US Elections Be The Trigger (Andy Xie)

While Western central bankers can stop making things worse, only China can restore stability in the global economy. Consider that 800 million Chinese workers have become as productive as their Western counterparts, but are not even close in terms of consumption. This is the fundamental reason for the global imbalance. China’s most important asset bubble is the property market China’s model is to subsidise investment. The resulting overcapacity inevitably devalues whatever its workers produce. That slows down wage rises and prolongs the deflationary pull. This is the reason that the Chinese currency has had a tendency to depreciate during its four decades of rapid growth, while other East Asian economies experienced currency appreciation during a similar period. Overinvestment means destroying capital. The model can only be sustained through taxing the household sector to fill the gap.

In addition to taking nearly half of the business labour outlay, China has invented the unique model of taxing the household sector through asset bubbles. The stock market was started with the explicit intention to subsidise state-owned enterprises. The most important asset bubble is the property market. It redistributes about 10% of GDP to the government sector from the household sector. The levies for subsidising investment keep consumption down and make the economy more dependent on investment and export. The government finds an ever-increasing need to raise levies and, hence, make the property bubble bigger. In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. China’s residential property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined.

In 1929, Joseph Kennedy thought that, when a shoeshine boy was giving stock tips, the market had run out of fools. Today, that shoeshine boy would be a genius How is this all going to end? Rising interest rates are usually the trigger. But we know the current bubble economy tends to keep inflation low through suppressing mass consumption and increasing overcapacity. It gives central bankers the excuse to keep the printing press on. In 1929, Joseph Kennedy thought that, when a shoeshine boy was giving stock tips, the market had run out of fools. Today, that shoeshine boy would be a genius. In today’s bubble, central bankers and governments are fools. They can mobilise more resources to become bigger fools. In 2000, the dotcom bubble burst because some firms were caught making up numbers. Today, you don’t need to make up numbers. What one needs is stories.

Hot stocks or property are sold like Hollywood stars. Rumour and innuendo will do the job. Nothing real is necessary. In 2007, structured mortgage products exposed cash-short borrowers. The defaults snowballed. But, in China, leverage is always rolled over. Default is usually considered a political act. And it never snowballs: the government makes sure of it. In the US, the leverage is mostly in the government. It won t default, because it can print money. The most likely cause for the bubble to burst would be the rising political tension in the West. The bubble economy keeps squeezing the middle class, with more debt and less wages. The festering political tension could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.

Read more …

Time to acknowledge these people really don’t have a clue. They are stuck in models that have long since failed, and they have no others.

Fed Divide On Inflation Intensified At September Policy Meeting (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers had a prolonged debate about the prospects of a pickup in inflation and slowing the path of future interest rate rises if it did not, according to the minutes of the U.S. central bank’s last policy meeting on Sept. 19-20 released on Wednesday. The readout of the meeting, at which the Fed announced it would begin this month to reduce its large bond portfolio mostly amassed following the financial crisis and unanimously voted to hold rates steady, also showed that officials remained mostly sanguine about the economic impact of recent hurricanes. “Many participants expressed concern that the low inflation readings this year might reflect… the influence of developments that could prove more persistent, and it was noted that some patience in removing policy accommodation while assessing trends in inflation was warranted,” the Fed said in the minutes.

As such several said that they would focus on incoming inflation data over the next few months when deciding on future interest rate moves. Nevertheless, many policymakers still felt that another rate increase this year “was likely to be warranted,” the Fed said. U.S. stocks and yields on U.S. Treasuries were little changed following the release of the minutes. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has repeatedly acknowledged since the meeting that there is rising uncertainty on the path of inflation, which has been retreating from the Fed’s 2% target rate over the past few months. However, Yellen and a number of other key policymakers have made plain they expect to continue to gradually raise interest rates given the strength of the overall economy and continued tightening of the labor market.

“The majority of Fed officials are worried that core inflation might not rebound quickly, but that isn’t going to stop them from continuing to normalize interest rates, particularly not when the unemployment rate is getting so low,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

Read more …

More clueless hacks. On Twitter, Tropical Traderhas this: “UK is a f**king leveraged real estate hedge fund Ponzi scheme run by and for spivs and chancers. Of course productivity is going nowhere… ”

UK Resigned To Endless Productivity Gloom (Tel.)

Britain’s productivity crisis is not going to come to an end any time soon. That is the verdict of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the official watchdog of Britain’s government finances, which monitors the economy closely. Productivity is crucial to economic growth and to living standards – workers can be paid more and work less if they produce more output for every hour worked. But since the financial crisis productivity has barely budged. Back in 2010 the OBR predicted productivity would resume its pre-crash trend, rising by about 15pc from 2009 to 2016. That did not happen. Each time the OBR made a forecast – at the Budget or the Autumn Statement – it thought the strong old trend rate would pick up. But it did not. Productivity remained stubbornly low.

After seven years of persisting with this forecast, the OBR has thrown in the towel. “As the period of historically weak productivity growth lengthens, it seems less plausible to assume that potential and actual productivity growth will recover over the medium term to the extent assumed in our most recent forecasts,” the watchdog said. “Over the past five years, growth in output per hour has averaged 0.2%. This looks set to be a better guide to productivity growth in 2017 than our March forecast.” That paints a gloomy picture for future economic growth, pay rises and the government’s finances. The report notes that “some commentators have argued that advanced economies have entered an era of permanently subdued productivity growth for structural reasons”. However, the OBR does not quite go that far.

This puzzle is a global one. Productivity growth has been disappointing across much of the rich world. But that is barely a silver lining, particularly when the underlying causes are hard to establish. At least the global nature of the problem allows for more ‘cures’ to be attempted. The US is currently engaged in monetary tightening. Interest rates are rising and quantitative easing will soon start to be wound back – gently, but still significantly. The move by Janet Yellen and her colleagues at the Federal Reserve should begin to test the idea that low interest rates are in part to blame for low productivity. At some point the theory around employment will surely have to be tested.

Read more …

That’s a lot of green.

The World Must Spend $2.7 Trillion on Charging Stations for Tesla to Fly (BBG)

A $2.7 trillion chasm stands between electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to make them popular. That’s how much Morgan Stanley says must be spent on building the supporting ecosystem for EVs to reach its forecast of 526 million units by 2040. The estimate, projected by scaling up Tesla Inc.’s current network of charging stations to assembly plants, shows how infrastructure can be the biggest bottleneck for the industry’s expansion, Morgan Stanley said in a Oct. 9 report. To support half a billion EVs, the projected investment will require a mix of private and public funding across regions and sectors, and any auto company or government with aggressive targets will be at risk without the necessary infrastructure, the report said.

The industry shift to battery-powered cars is being helped by government efforts to reduce air pollution by phasing out fossil fuel-powered engines. China, which has vowed to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 and improve air quality, recently joined the U.K. and France in seeking a timetable for the elimination of vehicles using gasoline and diesel. China will become the largest EV market, accounting for about a third of global infrastructure spending by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley.

Read more …

Just wait for the dominoes to drop. “In Central Japan Railway’s bullet trains, 310 of the tested parts were found to be sub-standard..”

Bullet Train Wheel Parts Made By Kobe Steel Failed Quality Tests (BBG)

Kobe Steel’s fake data scandal penetrated deeper into the most hallowed corners of Japanese industry as iconic bullet trains were found with sub-standard parts supplied by the steelmaker. While they don’t pose any safety risks, aluminum components connecting wheels to train cars failed Japanese industry standards, according to Central Japan Railway, which operates the high-speed trains between Tokyo and Osaka. West Japan Railway, which runs services from Osaka to Fukuoka, also found sub-standard parts made by Kobe Steel. The latest scandal to hit Japan’s manufacturing industry erupted on Sunday after the country’s third-largest steel producer admitted it faked data about the strength and durability of some aluminum and copper.

As scores of clients from Toyota to General Motors scrambled to determine if they used the suspect materials and whether safety was compromised in their cars, trains and planes, the company said two more products were affected and further cases could come to light. “I deeply apologize for causing concern to many people, including all users and consumers,” Kobe Steel CEO Hiroya Kawasaki said at a meeting with a senior official from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Thursday. He said trust in the company has fallen to “zero” and he will work to restore its reputation. “Safety is the top priority.” Shares in the company rebounded 1% Thursday, after plunging 36% over the previous two days. About $1.6 billion of the company’s market value has been wiped out since the revelations were made.

Figures were systematically fabricated at all four of Kobe Steel’s local aluminum plants, with the practice dating back as long as 10 years for some products, the company said Sunday. Data was also faked for iron ore powder and target materials that are used in DVDs and LCD screens, it said three days later. In Central Japan Railway’s bullet trains, 310 of the tested parts were found to be sub-standard and will be replaced at the next regular inspection, spokesman Haruhiko Tomikubo said. They were produced by Kobe Steel over the past five years, he said.

Read more …

I suggest mass recalls before Kobe is bankrupt. Or GM will have to pay up.

General Motors Checking Impact Of Kobe Steel Data Cheating (R.)

General Motors is checking whether its cars contain falsely certified parts or components sourced from Japan’s Kobe Steel, the latest major automaker to be dragged into the cheating scandal. “General Motors is aware of the reports of material deviation in Kobe Steel copper and aluminum products,” spokesman Nick Richards told Reuters, confirming a Kyodo News report. “We are investigating any potential impact and do not have any additional comments at this time” GM joins automakers including Toyota and as many as 200 other companies that have received parts sourced from Kobe Steel as the scandal reverberates through global supply chains. On Wednesday fresh revelations showed data fabrication at the steelmaker was more widespread than it initially said, as the company joins a list of Japanese manufacturers that have admitted to similar misconduct in recent years.

Investors, worried about the financial impact and potential legal fallout, again dumped Kobe Steel stock, wiping about $1.6 billion off its market value in two days. On Thursday in Tokyo, the shares stabilized and were up 1.1% [..] Kobe Steel President Hiroya Kawasaki said on Thursday his company would do the utmost to investigate the reason for the tampering and take measures to prevent further occurrences. He was speaking before meeting an industry ministry official to discuss the matter. The steelmaker admitted at the weekend it had falsified data about the quality of aluminum and copper products used in cars, aircraft, space rockets and defense equipment, a further hit to Japanese manufacturers’ reputation for quality products. Kobe Steel said late on Wednesday it found 70 cases of tampering with data on materials used in optical disks and liquid crystal displays at its Kobelco Research Institute Inc, which makes and tests products for the company.

Read more …

“Dollar denominated debt owed by governments and non-bank corporations in advanced economies with currencies other than the dollar has reached 26% of their GDP, nearly three times the level of the year 2000.”

And now raise rates….

De-dollarization Not Now (WS)

China announced today that it would sell $2 billion in government bonds denominated in US dollars. The offering will be China’s largest dollar-bond sale ever. The last time China sold dollar-bonds was in 2004. Investors around the globe are eager to hand China their US dollars, in exchange for a somewhat higher yield. The 10-year US Treasury yield is currently 2.34%. The 10-year yield on similar Chinese sovereign debt is 3.67%. Credit downgrade, no problem. In September, Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s debt (to A+) for the first time in 19 years, on worries that the borrowing binge in China will continue, and that this growing mountain of debt will make it harder for China to handle a financial shock, such as a banking crisis.

Moody’s had already downgraded China in May (to A1) for the first time in 30 years. “The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows,” it said. These downgrades put Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s on the same page with Fitch, which had downgraded China in 2013. But the Chinese Government doesn’t exactly need dollars. On October 9th, it reported that foreign exchange reserves – including $1.15 trillion in US Treasuries, according the US Treasury Department – rose to $3.11 trillion at the end of September, an 11-month high, as its crackdown on capital flight is bearing fruit (via Trading Economics):

[..] In total, emerging market governments and companies have issued $509 billion in dollar-denominated bonds so far this year, a new record. Dollar-denominated junk bond issuance in the developing world has hit a record $221 billion so far this year, up 60% from the total for the entire year 2016. [..] Dollar denominated debt owed by governments and non-bank corporations in advanced economies with currencies other than the dollar has reached 26% of their GDP, nearly three times the level of the year 2000. Borrowing in foreign currencies increases the default risks.

When the dollar rises against the currency that the borrower uses – which is a constant issue with many emerging market currencies that have much higher inflation rates than the US – borrowers can find it impossible to service their dollar-denominated debts. And when these economies or corporate cash flows slow down, central banks in these countries cannot print dollars to bail out their governments and largest companies. Financial crises have been made of this material, including the Asian Financial Crisis and the Tequila Crisis in Mexico. But today, none of this matters. What matters are yield-chasing investors that, after years of zero-interest-rate-policy brainwashing by central banks, can no longer see any risks at all. And the dollar remains the foreign currency of choice.

Read more …

The new Silk Road isn’t a Chinese idea. The US toyed with it. Xi has realized it’s the way to export China’s Ponzi. They will insist on having countries use Chinese products, and paying for them. Often with Chinese loans.

Xi’s Legacy May Rest on the World’s Biggest Infrastructure Project (BBG)

There’s one ambitious scheme of Xi’s about whose importance we may already be certain, one that will leave a big mark one way or another. It’s fundamentally geopolitical in nature, though it may ultimately maintain China’s historical sense of empire. The project is the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to be nothing less than the biggest infrastructure program the world has ever seen. Sometimes known as One Belt One Road, or OBOR, it will attempt to integrate China’s markets with those on three continents, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The idea is to build an integrated rail network crisscrossing Central and Southeast Asia and reaching far into Europe, while constructing large, modern deep-water ports to link shipping from China and the surrounding western Pacific to South Asia, Kenya, Tanzania, and beyond.

So far, more than 60 countries have signed on or appear inclined to participate. Together they account for about 70% of the Earth’s population and 75% of its known energy supplies. Finding reasonably accurate statistics about Chinese geopolitical initiatives has long been a challenge, but under Xi, OBOR appears to have amassed well over $100 billion in commitments from various Chinese or Chinese-derived institutions, including the recently formed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which some already see as a rival to the World Bank. Backed by Xi’s personal prestige, heft on this scale has turned OBOR into a kind of organizing motif for China’s politics and economy. The clear hope is that it will cement the country’s place as a leading, and, perhaps someday soon, the preeminent center of gravity in the world.

[..] Although downplayed in boosterish Chinese discussions, Beijing’s desire for markets to help soak up some of its overcapacity in steel and cement is an important motive behind OBOR’s focus on infrastructure—especially railroad lines. In 2015, China’s steel surplus was equivalent to the total output of the next four producers, Japan, India, the U.S., and Russia. Much the same is true for other key industrial materials. This push to develop outlets for China’s badly unbalanced economy has led many to skip over basic questions about the economic rationale for a vast rail network in the first place. If the ultimate idea is to link East and West with rapid, modern freight trains, as is often suggested, what’s the category of products that will benefit enough from these connections to make them profitable? Perishable and highly time-sensitive goods will almost always be transported by air. Meanwhile, no train, no matter how modern, will beat ocean freight for capacity or price per mile.

Read more …

Sobering.

Retirement in Australia is Unrealisable For Most Workers (Satyajit Das)

Australians make up barely 0.3% of the globe’s population and yet hold $2.1 trillion in pension savings – the world’s fourth-largest such pool. Those assets are viewed as a measure of the country’s wealth and economic resilience, and seem to guarantee a high standard of living for Australians well into the future. Other developed nations, aging even faster than Australia and subject to fraying safety nets, have held up the system as a world-class model to fund retirement. In fact, its future looks nowhere near so bright. Australia’s so-called superannuation scheme is a defined contribution pension plan funded by mandatory employer contributions (currently 9.5%, scheduled to rise gradually to 12% by 2025). Employees can supplement those savings and are encouraged to do so with tax breaks, pension fund earnings and generous benefits.

The gaudy size of the investment pool, however, masks serious vulnerabilities. First, the focus on assets ignores liabilities, especially Australia’s $1.8 trillion in household debt as well as total non-financial debt of around $3.5 trillion. It also overlooks Australia’s foreign debt, which has reached over 50% of GDP – the result of the substantial capital imports needed to finance current account deficits that have persisted despite the recent commodity boom, strong terms of trade and record exports. Second, the savings must stretch further than ever before, covering not just the income needs of retirees but their rapidly increasing healthcare costs. In the current low-income environment, investment earnings have shrunk to the point where they alone can’t cover expenses. That’s reducing the capital amount left to pass on as a legacy.

Third, the financial assets held in the system (equities, real estate, etc.) have to be converted into cash at current values when they’re redeemed, not at today’s inflated values. Those values are quite likely to decline, especially as a large cohort of Australians retires around the same time, driving up supply. Meanwhile, weak public finances mean that government funding for healthcare is likely to drop, forcing retirees to liquidate their investments faster and further suppressing values. Fourth, the substantial size of these savings and the large annual inflow (more than $100 billion per year) into asset managers has artificially inflated values of domestic financial assets, given the modest size of the Australian capital markets. As retirees increasingly draw down their savings, withdrawals may be greater than new inflows, reducing demand for these financial assets.

[..] The real lesson of Australia’s experience may be that the idea of retirement is unrealisable for most workers, who will almost certainly have to work beyond their expected retirement dates if they want to sustain their lifestyles. Governments have implicitly recognised this fact by abandoning mandatory retirement requirements, increasing the minimum retirement age, tightening eligibility criteria for benefits and reducing tax concessions for this form of saving. If the world’s best pension system can’t succeed, we’re going to have to rethink retirement itself.

Read more …

I must admit, the circus continues to amaze. By now, everyone involved on the UK side is just trying to save their political careers. But the Tories want to hold on to power too, and those two things will conflict. They’ll need to make a choice.

With Brexit Talks Stuck, Britain Is Preparing For The Worst (BBG)

With Brexit talks stuck, the U.K. is preparing for the worst. As the fifth round of negotiations draws to a close on Thursday, progress is so scant that the European side is stepping back from concessions it was said to be considering last month. The Commission won’t talk about trade before getting assurances that the U.K. will pay its dues, and with less than 18 months to go until the country tumbles out of the bloc, the focus in London has turned to contingency planning. Philip Hammond, the pro-EU chancellor of the exchequer, says he’s reluctant to spend cash on a Plan B just to score negotiating points. But he’ll start releasing money as soon as January if progress hasn’t been made in talks. Judging by the latest EU rhetoric, the chances of that happening are growing.

The goodwill that Prime Minister Theresa May generated in her speech in Florence, where she promised to pay into the EU budget for two years after Brexit and asked in return for a transition period so businesses can prepare for the split, hasn’t translated into progress in talks. Meanwhile May’s Conservatives remain deeply divided on the shape of Brexit, with the premier struggling each week to tread a careful line between rival camps. The political establishment is so conflicted that late on Wednesday two politicians from opposing parties joined forces to try and effectively bind May’s hands by tabling an amendment that would enshrine a two-year transition in law. Pound investors are expecting swings in the currency to get more dramatic over the next three months, options show, as political uncertainty unnerves traders.

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The torture never stops. And in the end the Germans win.

IMF Report Suggests New Greek Debt Measures Necessary (K.)

The third review of Greece’s third bailout could hit a snag after the International Monetary Fund’s forecast Thursday that the country’s primary surplus in 2018 will be at 2.2% of GDP– significantly lower than the 3.5% predicted by European insititutions and stipulated in the government’s draft budget and the bailout agreement. The latest forecast included in the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor report released Wednesday could, analysts believe, be a source of misery not just for Athens, which may once again be forced to look down the barrel of fresh measures next year to the tune of €2.3 billion – 1.3% of GDP – but for its European Union partners as well, who will have to decide whether to go along with the IMF’s forecast or not.

If they do not, then the risk of the IMF leaving the Greek program will be higher. If, however, European lenders go along with IMF’s forecast, which it first made in July, then Athens is concerned that they may revise their own predictions downward in order to placate the organization – as was the case during the second review – in order to ensure that it remains on board with the Greek program. The latter outcome could, analysts reckon, be the more likely one given that Germany’s Free Democrats (FDP), expected to form part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, have stated that they will agree to an aid program for Greece on the condition that the IMF takes part in the Greek bailout.

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Oct 102017
 
 October 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Camille Pissarro Rue Saint-Lazare, Paris 1897

 

Britain Can’t Cope With A Fall In House Prices (Ind.)
A Remarkable Run for Stocks Gets More Extraordinary (BBG)
Bill Gross Blames Fed For ‘Fake Markets’ (R.)
ECB’s Knot Warns of Market Correction as Risk May Be Underpriced (BBG)
Catalan President To Declare “Gradual Independence” On Tuesday (ZH)
Dear Catalans – A Message From The Chairman (Ren.)
The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron (Steve Keen)
Kobe Steel Faked Data For Metals Used In Planes And Cars (BBG)
Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, Theresa May Warns Britain (Ind.)
The Rising Of Britain’s ‘New Politics’ (John Pilger)
Saudi Arabia In Huge Arms Deals With US AND Russia (N.au)
India Had The Most Confident Consumers. Then Their Cash Disappeared (BBG)
The Big Amazon Subsidy is Doomed (WS)
No Joy in Trumpville (Kunstler)

 

 

Britain and many other countries. Their economies are propped up by bubbles.

Britain Can’t Cope With A Fall In House Prices (Ind.)

[..] most properties in the UK still belong to households. Families, by and large, don’t need to sell. So what would falling property prices mean for them? First, many pension funds and investment bonds rely on UK property to generate income for their beneficiaries. Second, we have what economists call the wealth effect. Economists have long associated consumers’ perceived real estate wealth with spending behaviour: if you believe your house is worth a lot, you feel financially secure. And then you allow yourself to save less and spend more. Just consider the rising number of people who plan to subsidise their retirement with wealth generated by their homes. If their assumed valuations start to look shaky, these people will spend less to build up their savings. The pain would be felt by many: about 64% of households in England are owner-occupiers.

The wealth effect is important in most developed economies but even more so in the UK which relies on ever-rising levels of consumer spending for its growth. A 10% fall in the value of dwellings in the UK would correspond to a loss of wealth equivalent to more than the value of all the cars exported from the UK in a decade. The climate of economic uncertainty, reduced consumption and falling real estate values brings an additional problem for the UK. Britain has long had a trade deficit, but it has also benefited from positive foreign direct investment. The current account itself has been in the red for nearly 20 years now but the hundreds of billions of inward foreign investment channelled to UK property over the same period meant that this deficit remained manageable – just about.

According to the Bank of England, overseas companies have accounted for roughly half of all UK commercial real estate transactions since 2013. If international investors expect prices to fall in any sustained way, the inflow of money would stop and many would sell up. Why buy or hold an asset just at the start of what might be a long decline? This would not only put pressure on real estate prices but would affect UK GDP, reduce government revenues and worsen the UK current account position. The credit rating of the UK would come under more pressure, and trillions of UK government debt would cost more to refinance. Then the UK government deficit would deteriorate further, taxes might rise to cover for this and the domino effect would be in full cry, spreading to all sectors of the economy, similar to events in Greece.

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Bloated. No heartbeat.

A Remarkable Run for Stocks Gets More Extraordinary (BBG)

With a 2% gain in September, the S&P 500 Index has set a record: positive returns in each of the first 10 months of the year. There’s never been a full calendar year when this has happened every month. Going back to November 2016, the index has ripped off 12 consecutive monthly gains. The S&P hasn’t had a down quarter since the third quarter of 2015, a streak of eight in a row without a loss. Since the start of 2013, 18 of the past 19 quarters have been positive. And it’s not like stocks are melting up either. They are going up slowly as volatility is slowly going down. Not only have stocks been consistently profitable recently, but they have done so with remarkably low volatility. This year, there has yet to be a 2% move up or down on the S&P 500.

For a frame of reference, in 2009, there were 55 separate 2% up or down days and there were 35 in 2011. The annualized volatility of daily returns on stocks since 1928 has been 18.7%. For 2017, that number is 7%, a little more than one-third of the long-term average. The average absolute daily price change this year on the S&P 500 is just 31 basis points. If the year ended right now, that would be the lowest daily price change on record since 1965. The worst peak-to-trough drawdown is just 2.8% this year. Over the past 100 years, the average intrayear drawdown in stocks has been around 16%. The shallowest calendar-year peak-to-trough drawdown was in 1995, when the worst loss in stocks was just 3.3% for the year.

So investors in U.S. stocks have had double-digit gains three-quarters of the way through the year, with increases every month, nonexistent volatility, and nothing even approaching a 5% correction. It’s looking like a record-breaking year in terms of a calm market. As far as investing in stocks goes, this year has been about as good as it gets – so far. It’s worth remembering that stocks are cyclical, even if those cycles don’t run on set schedules. The following shows the historical drawdown profile of the S&P 500 going back to just before the Great Depression:

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There are no investors: “There is no real advantage in the global marketplace. Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.”

Bill Gross Blames Fed For ‘Fake Markets’ (R.)

Influential bond investor Bill Gross of Janus Henderson Investors said on Monday that financial markets are artificially compressed and capitalism distorted because of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy. “I think we have fake markets,” Gross said at a Janus Henderson event. Investors should brace for higher Treasury bond yields as the Fed begins to unwind its quantitative easing program but yields will edge up “only gradually,” he said. Gross, who oversees the $2.1 billion Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, said the Fed’s loose monetary policy had resulted in investors chasing yield and thus producing tight corporate spreads everywhere around the globe.

“Even China and South Korea – perfect examples of the risk trade – are at very narrow (corporate spread) levels. There is no real advantage in the global marketplace. Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.” Gross reiterated his warning that Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other global policy makers should not rely on historical models such as the Taylor Rule and the Phillips curve “in an era of extraordinary monetary policy.” Economists John Taylor and A.W. Phillips devised models for guiding interest-rate policy based, respectively, on inflation and the unemployment rate. Those models disregard the importance of private credit in the economy, according to Gross.

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In complete denial of what they have wrought.

ECB’s Knot Warns of Market Correction as Risk May Be Underpriced (BBG)

Financial markets may be underpricing global risks, leaving them vulnerable to a major correction, according to European Central Bank Governing Council member Klaas Knot warned. As global stocks surge, measures of volatility suggest unprecedented calm even as crises around the world – including the Catalan separatists in Spain, Turkey’s diplomatic row with the U.S., North Korea’s missile tests and the danger of a hard Brexit – make political headlines. “It increasingly feels uncomfortable to have low volatility in the markets on the one hand while on the other hand there are risks in the global economy,” said Knot, who is also the president of the Dutch Central Bank.

Similarly, a sooner-than-expected normalization of U.S. monetary policy – where financial markets see a slower pace of rate hikes than what the Federal Reserve communicates – would quickly turn investor sentiment, the DNB wrote in a report on financial stability which Knot presented in Amsterdam on Monday. That makes the “risk of sharp market corrections real,” it said. Still, Knot said there’s “no one within the context of the ECB already talking about an increase of interest rates. Rates will “stay low for a long time.” In the run-up to the next policy decision on Oct. 26, ECB officials are showing differing preferences for the way forward with quantitative easing, which is set to run at €60 billion a month and total almost €2.3 trillion by the end of December.

Executive Board member Peter Praet, who crafts the policy proposals, said last week that calm markets may allow the final stages of the bond-buying plan to be dragged out. “The program has achieved what realistically could be expected from it,” Knot said about QE, adding that it supported growth, reduced investment costs and ended deflationary risks.

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Talk!

Catalan President To Declare “Gradual Independence” On Tuesday (ZH)

In the latest twist ahead of tomorrow’s much anticipated “next step” announcement to be made by the Catalan secessionists, which is still to be formalized, Spain’s EFE newswire reports that Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont has reportedly drafted a declaration of “gradual independence”, that will be “gradually effective” and which will plan to start a constituent process. The declaration, which will cap what El Periodico dubbed “the most critical moment for Catalonia” will allegedly insist on Catalonia’s wish to negotiate with central government and the need for mediation, although in an indication that Puigdemont may be back tracking from his hard-line “binary” stance, EFE adds that the Declaration won’t lead to parliamentary vote, and as such may be non-binding. The news is the latest development in a fast-paced day, in which as we reported earlier this morning, the ruling People’s Party issued a thinly veiled death threat to the President of Catalonia.

“Let’s hope that nothing is declared tomorrow because perhaps the person who makes the decalartion will end up like the person who made the declaration 83 years ago.” Additionally, perhaps as a Plan B, Catalan secessionists opened a second-front in their campaign against the government in Madrid, urging the opposition Socialists to forge a coalition to oust Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Bloomberg reported and added that while the Socialists have so far refused to sign up to the plan, the Catalan groups pushing it have already persuaded the populist Podemos party to back and accept a Socialist-only government. Should the Socialists get on board, the alliance would have 172 seats in the 350-strong chamber and would look to add the Basque Nationalists to form a majority. Rajoy heads a minority administration with 134 deputies and can be toppled with a no-confidence motion.

Meanwhile, as reported overnight, Catalan secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont faced increased pressure on Monday to abandon plans to declare independence from Spain, with France and Germany expressing support for the country’s unity. The Madrid government, grappling with Spain’s biggest political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981, said it would respond immediately to any such unilateral declaration.

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But then there’s this.

Dear Catalans – A Message From The Chairman (Ren.)

Dear Catalans, I must confess that I feel rather like St. Paul must have felt when he wrote to the Corinthians – the need to address an entire region is a grave affair. But the matter I must address today is of great importance to our community of nations: Enough is enough. We need to get a few things cleared up before this regrettable idea of independence goes any further. There are a number of things that have been rather opaque since we set up the EU. This was deliberate – there was simply no reason for you to know until now. There should never have been any need to disclose this information, and indeed there wouldn’t have been, were it not for those tiresome Brits setting such a terrible example for everyone last year. We must resolve this matter quickly so that we can all get back to the business of being one big happy family again. Here’s what you need to know: We ‘own’ Spain, and Spain ‘owns’ you.

Since you have seen reason to doubt the binding nature of this arrangement, perhaps I should explain to you how it works: Catalonia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Spain – this is all covered in the constitution, and is totally binding, although you may not have realised that when you voted upon it. 1) It was democratic you see – one simply must read the small print, but of course one never does, does one? 2) Spain is a subsidiary of the EU – this is all covered by EU treaty, which of course is also binding, as has been explained on a number of occasions by our Head of European Political Operations, dear Jean-Claude. The following points may be difficult for you to understand, because we’ve never had to explain the structure beyond this point.

3) The EU is not owned by anyone, but of course ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ are really the same thing, but without all the legal drudgery that has become so tiresome of late. 4) The EU is controlled by the monetary system that we put in place. I am not referring to the euro, which is simply the local mechanism for this region. I am referring to the banking system, which over-arches everything. The banks are the organisations that loan the money into existence in the first place. You didn’t know that did you? Don’t worry, very few people do…and that’s worked very well until now. This is how it works: a) Governments don’t actually buy anything with taxes. They spend money that the banks loan to them by buying their IOUs, AKA sovereign bonds. b) When governments eventually get round to collecting taxes they use them to cancel some of their IOUs, plus they pay interest on all of them – naturally.

c) Since all politicians inevitably make promises that they can’t afford in order to get elected – a practice that we encourage by funding both sides – there is never enough taxation collected to fully redeem the IOUs, and there never will be. Why not? Because of the 8th wonder of the world – compound interest! Governments across the globe are paying the banks interest on interest on interest on money that they could have just printed for themselves in the first place!

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Major demo’s all over France today. Macron plans to fire 100,000+ civil servants.

The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron (Steve Keen)

Since his election, Macron’s popularity has plunged faster than any French president in history. Attempts to explain this decline have focused on his pompous approach to governance—literally professing to want to govern like Jupiter. But there is a deeper cause. He has misdiagnosed the origins of the French economic malaise, and therefore his Jovian economic thunderbolts will do more harm than good. It’s easy to show the blatant errors in the president’s perspective by merely looking at the data. Macron’s economic agenda cites an excessively large public sector as the fundamental cause of France’s malaise, and the main ‘Evidence for the Prosecution’ is the towering level of government debt: as of March 2017, this was 111% of GDP, almost twice the 60% of GDP maximum allowed by the Maastricht Treaty.

But private liabilities are worse still: 187% of GDP. So, why does Macron, in common with politicians of almost all stripes, not worry about this far higher level of debt? The reason is that, given he was schooled in mainstream economics for his Master’s degree at ENA (École Nationale d’administration), Macron accepts the argument that private debt doesn’t matter. It’s just a “pure redistribution”, to quote Ben Bernanke, which “absent implausibly large differences in marginal spending propensities” between savers and lenders, “should have no significant macroeconomic effects.” This comforting belief is sharply contradicted by the data for countries which, like France, have a private debt ratio well in excess of 100% of GDP. If Bernanke’s assumption were correct, there would be little or no correlation between credit (the annual change in private debt) and unemployment.

However, in his home country of the USA, the relationship between credit and unemployment since 1990 is minus 0.91: meaning rising credit reduces unemployment, and falling credit increases it. In France’s case, the correlation is lower but still substantial at minus 0.62, when according to mainstream economics, it should be close to zero. So credit matters, not merely because savers are much less likely to consume than debtors, but because bank credit creates new money. Since this new cash is spent by the borrowers, it adds to aggregate demand. And falling credit over time—which France has generally been experiencing since the early 1970s—therefore implies rising unemployment.

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This could spiral out of control. Why would any company take the risk of deadly incidents, instead of demanding recalls?

Kobe Steel Faked Data For Metals Used In Planes And Cars (BBG)

Kobe Steel unleashed an industrial scandal that reverberated across Asia’s second-largest economy after saying its staff falsified data related to strength and durability of some aluminum and copper products used in aircraft, cars and maybe even a space rocket. The Japanese company’s stock ended 22% lower in Tokyo as customers including Toyota, Honda and Subaru said they had used materials from Kobe Steel that were subject to falsification. Boeing, which gets some parts from Subaru, said there’s nothing to date that raises any safety concerns. Rival aluminum makers gained. Kobe Steel’s admission raises fresh concern about the integrity of Japanese manufacturers, and follows Takata misleading automakers about the safety of its air bags, and last week’s recall by Nissan of cars after regulators discovered unauthorized inspectors approved vehicle quality.

Kobe Steel said on Sunday the products were delivered to more than 200 companies but didn’t disclose customer names, with the falsification intended to make the metals look as if they met client quality standards. Chief Executive Officer Hiroya Kawasaki is now leading a committee to probe quality issues. The fabrication of figures was found at all four of Kobe Steel’s local aluminum plants in conduct that was systematic, and for some items the practice dated back some 10 years ago, Executive Vice President Naoto Umehara said on Sunday. Toyota said it has found Kobe Steel materials, for which the supplier falsified data, in hoods, doors and peripheral areas. “We are rapidly working to identify which vehicle models might be subject to this situation and what components were used,” Toyota spokesman Takashi Ogawa said. “We recognize that this breach of compliance principles on the part of a supplier is a grave issue.”

Kobe Steel said it discovered the falsification in inspections on products shipped from September 2016 to August 2017, adding there haven’t been any reports of safety issues. The products account for 4% of shipments of aluminum and copper parts as well as castings and forgings. “The incident is serious,” said Takeshi Irisawa at Tachibana Securities. “At the moment, the impact is unclear but if this leads to recalls, the cost would be huge. There’s a possibility that the company would have to shoulder the cost of a recall in addition to the cost for replacement.”

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We might be in for some crazy surprises in the UK. They’ve lost the script.

Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, Theresa May Warns Britain (Ind.)

Theresa May has warned the British public to prepare for crashing out of the EU with no deal, setting out emergency plans to avoid border meltdown for businesses and travellers. As hopes of an agreement appeared to fade at home and abroad, the Prime Minister – for the first time – set out detailed “steps to minimise disruption” on Brexit day in 2019. They included plans for huge inland lorry parks to cope with the lengthy new customs checks that will be needed – to avoid ports becoming traffic-choked. The move came as Ms May admitted she expected the deadlocked negotiations to drag on for another year before any possible breakthrough. At Westminster, Brexiteer Tories exploited the Prime Minister’s weakness – after last week’s attempted coup – to demand that Chancellor Philip Hammond, and other voices of compromise, be sidelined.

Bernard Jenkin attacked the EU for “refusing to discuss the long term relationship between the EU and the UK”, asking the Prime Minister: “When does she call time?” Meanwhile, in Brussels, Ms May’s insistence that she would make no further compromises in the talks – she told the EU “the ball’s in their court” – was firmly rebuffed. “There has been, so far, no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK’s court for the rest to happen,” said Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s chief spokesman. Laying bare the impasse, Brexit Secretary David Davis did not attend the first day of the resumed talks, although he is expected to be in Brussels on Tuesday.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister continued to insist that “real and tangible progress” towards an agreement had been made since her high-profile speech in Florence last month. But she also made clear that new policy papers on trade and customs were intended to show Britain could operate as an “independent trading nation” – even if no trade deal was reached.

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Always Pilger.

The Rising Of Britain’s ‘New Politics’ (John Pilger)

Delegates to the recent Labour Party conference in Brighton seemed not to notice a video playing. The world’s third biggest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, supplier to Saudi Arabia, was promoting guns, bombs, missiles, naval ships and fighter aircraft. It seemed a perfidious symbol of a party in which millions of Britons now invest their political hopes. Once the preserve of Tony Blair, it is now led by Jeremy Corbyn, whose career has been very different and is rare in British establishment politics. Addressing the conference, the campaigner Naomi Klein described the rise of Corbyn as “part of a global phenomenon. We saw it in Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign in the US primaries, powered by millennials who know that safe centrist politics offers them no kind of safe future.”

In fact, at the end of the US primary elections last year, Sanders led his followers into the arms of Hillary Clinton, a liberal warmonger from a long tradition in the Democratic Party. As President Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton presided over the invasion of Libya in 2011, which led to a stampede of refugees to Europe. She gloated at the gruesome murder of Libya’s president. Two years earlier, Clinton signed off on a coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. That she has been invited to Wales on 14 October to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Swansea because she is “synonymous with human rights” is unfathomable. Like Clinton, Sanders is a cold-warrior and “anti-communist” obsessive with a proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States.

He supported Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s illegal assault on Yugoslavia in 1998 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, as well as Barack Obama’s campaign of terrorism by drone. He backs the provocation of Russia and agrees that the whistleblower Edward Snowden should stand trial. He has called the late Hugo Chavez – a social democrat who won multiple elections – “a dead communist dictator”. While Sanders is a familiar American liberal politician, Corbyn may be a phenomenon, with his indefatigable support for the victims of American and British imperial adventures and for popular resistance movements. [..] And yet, now Corbyn is closer to power than he might have ever imagined, his foreign policy remains a secret. By secret, I mean there has been rhetoric and little else. “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy,” he said at the Labour conference. But what are these “values”?

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Stop!

Saudi Arabia In Huge Arms Deals With US AND Russia (N.au)

Saudi Arabia has been quietly planning to build its own military empire and over the last week, it’s announced how it plans to do so. With Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s help. Despite increasing criticism over the United States’ military sales to Saudi Arabia, the US State Department has paved the way for the potential purchase of controversial — and expensive — military equipment. On Saturday, the US State Department announced the approval to sell Saudi Arabia 44 THAAD anti-missile defence systems, 360 interceptor missiles, 16 mobile fire-control and communication stations and seven THAAD radars at an estimated price tag of $US15 billion, according to a press release from the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

The sale, supplied by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon – also includes 43 trucks, generators, electrical power units, communications equipment, tools, test and maintenance equipment and “personnel training and training equipment”. The department said the sale of the equipment to the Saudi people would help provide a balance to a relatively unstable environment in the Gulf and to help the US forces enlarge its allied grip on the region. “THAAD’s exo-atmospheric, hit-to-kill capability will add an upper-tier to Saudi Arabia’s layered missile defence architecture.” Meanwhile, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has entered into a preliminary agreement to purchase Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system, he announced in Moscow last week. The king has been visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in talks over oil and Syria, Saudi’s al Arabiya television reported. It is the first visit of a Saudi monarch to visit Mr Putin. It is expected the sale will beef-up security in the nuclear-hungry Middle East.

The US sale has not yet “concluded”, it confirmed. US Congress has 30 days to object. The THAAD – Terminal High Altitude Area Defence – missile system is used to defend against incoming missile attacks and “is one of the most capable defensive missile batteries in the US arsenal and comes equipped with an advanced radar system”, according to AFP. “This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the State Department said in a statement.

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“Manufacturing jobs are forecast to fall about 30% this year..”

India Had The Most Confident Consumers. Then Their Cash Disappeared (BBG)

Consumption was India’s big story. Its 1.3 billion population was expected to guzzle everything from iron to iPhones, driving global growth and cheering investors such as Apple and Goldman Sachs. For a while everything seemed smooth. Indians were the world’s most confident consumers and the $2 trillion economy was the fastest-growing big market. Then, last November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi voided 86% of currency in circulation, worsening a slowdown that had started earlier in the year. Climbing global oil prices and a tightening Federal Reserve could also complicate domestic policy making. “There are a number of uncertainties which are clouding the short-term outlook of the Indian economy,” said Kaushik Das, Mumbai-based chief economist at Deutsche Bank. “Risk of policy error remains high.”

Indians fell off the top of Mastercard’s Asia Consumer Confidence Index in the first half of 2017, and a report from the nation’s central bank last week confirmed the bleak outlook. About 27% of Indians surveyed said incomes have fallen, pushing overall sentiment into the “pessimistic zone.” Employment “has been the biggest cause of worry,” the Reserve Bank of India said. Government data show food price deflation, hurting rural incomes, and supply of new houses in India’s top eight cities falling 33% January-September, hit by a demand slowdown. Convincing Indians to consume would first require assuring them they’ll have a job. It won’t be easy for Modi to do so. Manufacturing jobs are forecast to fall about 30% this year and broader surveys show the hiring outlook is near a 12-year low. There was an absolute decline in employment between March 2014 and 2016, “perhaps happening for the first time in independent India”.

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Politics can’t and won’t keep up.

The Big Amazon Subsidy is Doomed (WS)

Amazon battled states for years to avoid having to collect sales taxes. Walmart was on the other side of the fight, along with state revenue offices. Walmart had to add sales taxes to all its sales in California, whether online or brick-and-mortar, which at the time ranged from 7.25% to 9.75% depending on location. For shoppers, that price difference was reason enough to switch to Amazon. It was in essence a massive taxpayer subsidy for Amazon. But Amazon lost that battle and started charging sales taxes in California in September, 2012. State after state followed. By early 2017, Amazon was charging sales taxes in all 45 states that have state-wide sales taxes and in Washington DC.

Still, even in 2016, online retailers dodged paying $17.2 billion in sales taxes on out-of-state sales, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For them, it’s a massive price advantage that other retailers didn’t get. The fight over sales taxes is based on a Supreme Court case of 1992 – Quill Corp. v. North Dakota – that barred states from forcing companies to collect sales taxes if they didn’t have physical facilities in those states, such as stores or warehouses. For Amazon, this got increasingly complicated as it is building out its distribution network, with warehouses and facilities around the country. So now Amazon is collecting sales taxes. Problem solved? Nope.

Amazon only collects sales taxes on sales of inventory that it owns (first-party sales). But Amazon is also a platform that sells merchandise owned by other sellers (third-party sales). About half of the goods sold on the Amazon platform fall into this category. Amazon leaves sales tax collections to the 2 million merchants on its platform. But they claim that it’s not their job to collect sales taxes, and most of them don’t collect them. Hence, third-party sales still get the taxpayer subsidy. Amazon isn’t the only out-of-state retailer or platform. It’s just the biggest one. eBay and many others are impacted by it too. Legally, this remains murky. But states and brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting to get the subsidy scrapped. “It’s a fairness issue,” Minnesota Senator Roger Chamberlain told Bloomberg. “Right now, there’s an unlevel playing field that disadvantages brick-and-mortar stores.”

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“History is a trickster.”

No Joy in Trumpville (Kunstler)

I took advantage of the calm before the storm, to pay a visit on Saturday to my hometown, Trumpville, a.k.a. Manhattan. My college buddy had a son who was acting in an off-Broadway play (closing night, so don’t bother asking). The city I knew as a kid — which, frankly, I never liked very much — seemed as lost and far away as Peter Stuyvesant’s quaint Dutch colonial outpost did to me in 1962. That lost city of my childhood was one in which a boy could breeze right into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a weekday afternoon — my school was one block away from it — without the least hindrance. The place was free. There was no “donation” shakedown at the entrance. And hardly anyone was there. Do you know why? Answer: because most of the adults on the island were at work. It was a mostly middle-class city back then.

I know. It’s hard to believe, given the more recent developments in American life — the salient one being the extreme and perverse financialization of the economy. That is actually what you see manifested on-the-ground (and up-in-the-air) when you visit New York these days. To be specific, what I saw sitting on a bench along the High Line — a walking trail built on an old railroad trestle through the former Meatpacking District into Chelsea — was all the wealth of the flyover states funneled into a few square miles of land on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. As I watched the endless stream of tourists and hipsters stride by in their selfie raptures, I pictured the various downtowns of the Midwest I’ve visited over the years — St Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Detroit, Akron, Dayton, Cleveland, Louisville, Tulsa, and many more — and remembered the incredible desolation of their centers.

There was no one there, certainly no tourists or hipsters, really no activity to speak of. They were ghost cities. The net effect of financialization has been the asset-stripping of every other place in America for the benefit of a very few cities on the coasts, and especially the financial engineers within them. Thus, the ironic rise of New Yorker Trump as the avatar and supposed savior of all those people “out there” in their dying hometowns and beyond. And their tremendously bitter enmity against the “blue” coastal elites, of which Trump is a nonpareil exemplar. History is a trickster.

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Sep 292017
 
 September 29, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Weeping woman 1937

 

US Inequality Near Historic Highs, Wages Stagnant (BI)
UBS Indentifies 8 Cities With Biggest Housing Bubbles (ZH)
Chinese Money Is Still Leaking Into the World’s Housing Markets (BBG)
China’s Bitcoin Market Alive And Well As Traders Defy Crackdown (R.)
China Orders North Korean Companies Active In The Country To Shut Down (BBG)
The Closing Of The Catalan Polling Stations (EI)
French Vineyards Robbed Of Seven Tonnes Of Grapes (AFP)
Schäuble Leaves But Schäuble-ism Lives On (Varoufakis)
Over Half Of All Greek Enterprises Are In The Red (K.)
Surge In Migration To Greece Fuels Misery In Refugee Camps (G.)
China’s Love of Meat Is Driving Global Antibiotic Usage (BBG)
Tropical Forests Don’t Absorb Carbon. They Emit As Much As All US Transit (Q.)

 

 

Economy out of balance.

US Inequality Near Historic Highs, Wages Stagnant (BI)

There is a reason so many Americans feel the economy’s recovery from the Great Recession has not benefited them: It hasn’t. An expansion that began, believe it or not, more than seven years ago has extended a longer-run trend of wage stagnation for the average US worker, despite a sharp drop in the official unemployment rate to 4.4% from an October 2009 peak of 10%. No wonder the recovery seems so lopsided, particularly given economic inequality levels not seen since before the Great Depression. A new report from the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy initiative of the Brookings Institution in Washington, offers a range of startling figures and charts that paints a rather dramatic picture of US economic disparities. “The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers,” wrote Jay Shambaugh, a White House economist under President Barack Obama who now heads the Hamilton Project.

After adjusting for inflation, wages are just 10% higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, amounting to real annual wage growth of just below 0.2% a year, the report says. [..] One big source of the problem: Starting around the 1970s, US productivity growth began rising much more rapidly than workers’ compensation — meaning the share of growth was accumulating increasingly in corporate profits at the expense of pay. The report attributes this both to the increasing role of technology in the workplace but also to a loss of bargaining power brought on by anti-union labor policies and other wage-suppressing measures. “Changes in worker bargaining power, competition within and across industries, and globalization can all influence the share of output workers receive,” the report said.

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What happened to Auckland?

UBS Indentifies 8 Cities With Biggest Housing Bubbles (ZH)

Two years ago, when UBS looked at the world’s most expensive housing markets, it found that London and Hong Kong were the only two areas exposed to bubble risk. What a difference just a couple of years makes, because in the latest report by UBS wealth Management, which compiles the bank’s Global Real Estate Bubble Index, it found that eight of the world’s largest cities are now subject to a massive speculative housing bubble. And while perpetually low mortgage rates are clearly to blame for the rapid ascent of home prices, Chinese money laundering operations clearly seem to also be playing a role as their favorite markets of Vancouver, Toronto and Sydney all made this year’s list. Bubble risk seems greatest in Toronto, where it has increased significantly in the last year.

Stockholm, Munich, Vancouver, Sydney, London and Hong Kong all remain in risk territory, with Amsterdam joining this group after being overvalued last year. Valuations are stretched in Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Zurich, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Geneva as well. In contrast, property markets in Boston, Singapore, New York and Milan seem fairly valued, while Chicago remains undervalued, just as it was last year. Price bubbles are a regularly recurring phenomenon in property markets. The term “bubble” refers to a substantial and sustained mispricing of an asset, the existence of which cannot be proved unless it bursts. But recurring patterns of property market excesses are observable in the historical data. Typical signs include a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents, and distortions of the real economy, such as excessive lending and construction activity. The UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index gauges the risk of a property bubble on the basis of such patterns.

As UBS points out, artificially low interest rates in Europe, for example, have kept mortgage payments below their 10-year average despite real prices surging 30% since 2007. Falling mortgage rates over the last decade have made buying a home vastly more attractive, which increased average willingness to pay for home ownership. In European cities, for example, the annual usage costs for apartments (mortgage interest payments and amortization) are still below their 10-year average, despite real prices escalating 30% since 2007. In Canada and Australia, too, a large part of the negative impact of higher purchase prices on affordability was cushioned by low mortgage rates.

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Xi must watch his reserves.

Chinese Money Is Still Leaking Into the World’s Housing Markets (BBG)

Tighter capital controls have done little to dent the appetite of Chinese buyers who already helped drive prices higher across the globe. While definitive data are hard to come by, real estate brokers including Knight Frank LLP, Savills Plc and domestic firm Shiju report rising purchases of overseas property this year. What’s changed is that the curbs have prompted buyers to look for cheaper homes in smaller cities, making down payments more manageable. Part of the reason for the unhindered overseas purchases could be that authorities have already succeeded in stemming capital outflows after cracking down on the most acquisitive companies. That eases the need to enforce limits on individuals, a more difficult and costly process, said Steven Zhang at Morgan Stanley Huaxin. “It’s a question of cost and benefit,” Zhang said.

Since the start of 2017, Chinese applying for their $50,000-a-year foreign-exchange quotas must sign pledges that the money won’t be used for real estate. Violators face a range of potential sanctions. [..] The impact of the increased currency scrutiny has been on the size rather than the quantity of deals. At real estate portal Juwai.com, the average price of overseas properties Chinese buyers inquired about dropped to just over $292,000 this year from more than $356,000 in 2016. Some buyers are eschewing pricey hubs like New York for less-expensive areas such as Florida and Texas, according to Eric Lam, chief executive of Shiju, the overseas broker unit of Shenzhen World Union Properties. They’re typically spending up to 3 million yuan ($450,000) for U.S. homes, and as much as 2 million yuan for U.K. properties, prices that make for manageable down payments using exchange quotas, Lam said.

Jones Lang LaSalle said it was mainly selling U.K. homes, often below $500,000, and Cushman & Wakefield also highlighted surging Chinese demand for British property after the pound weakened following the Brexit vote. [..] The undimmed appetite suggests Chinese money could continue to put upward pressure on prices, a trend that’s stoked concern among locals in cities from Vancouver to Sydney. Chinese buyers, mainly from the mainland but also from Taiwan and Hong Kong, spent a record $31.7 billion on U.S. residential properties in the year through March 31, remaining the biggest foreign force in the market.

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The crackdown doesn’t come into effect until October.

China’s Bitcoin Market Alive And Well As Traders Defy Crackdown (R.)

Weeks after Beijing banned fundraising through token launches and ordered some bitcoin exchanges to shut, casting a chill over the cryptocurrency industry, traders say that the market is far from dead. While several exchanges have announced that they will close by the end of this month, traders have now moved to buy and sell bitcoin directly with each other on peer-to-peer marketplaces and messenger apps. Industry insiders say some overseas-based initial coin offerings (ICOs) are still being marketed. Although the crackdown has dissuaded large swathes of less-experienced investors from participating in the trade, market participants point to the limits Chinese regulators ultimately face in controlling the industry, where many users are anonymous and difficult to track.

In the short-run, the crackdown has also created an arbitrage opportunity for investors, with the price of bitcoin in China now trading at a discount to overseas exchanges. “They can’t set rules to stop me from investing in what I want to invest in. They say you are protecting me, but as long as I think this is good, they have no way to intervene,” said a Chinese bitcoin investor named Victor, who declined to give his full name citing current sensitivities. [..] “The fact that bitcoin is still being traded is an indication that China isn’t looking to eliminate them, but reposition things in a way to have better control over them,” said Marshall Swatt, the founder of New York-based Coinsetter, a bitcoin exchange acquired by larger peer San Francisco-based Kraken in 2016.

Other Chinese cryptocurrency players said traders were also moving away from using Tencent’s WeChat app, to encrypted messenger app Telegram to avoid regulatory scrutiny. Some said they were still seeing overseas-based ICOs being marketed in China. The Sept. 4 shutdown of ICOs stipulated that Chinese citizens were not allowed to invest in ICOs. Overseas ICOs have been returning money on a voluntary basis.

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That’s going to hurt.

China Orders North Korean Companies Active In The Country To Shut Down (BBG)

China ordered North Korean companies active in the country to shut down as it seeks to implement United Nations’ sanctions against the hermetic regime. Joint ventures between Chinese firms and North Korean entities and individuals will also have to close, according to a statement on the website of China’s Ministry of Commerce Thursday. Companies are required to cease business within 120 days of Sept. 12 – the day after the UN passed new sanctions aimed at punishing North Korea for its latest missile and nuclear tests. Non-profit and non-commercial public utility and infrastructure projects are not subject to the order, the ministry said. The move comes ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to China at the weekend. North Korea is among topics to be discussed with senior Chinese leaders, along with President Donald Trump’s planned trip to the region and trade and investment issues, the State Department said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Please keep the peace.

The Closing Of The Catalan Polling Stations (EI)

As we reported yesterday, the Catalan head prosecutor has instructed the regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to seal the designated polling stations for Sunday’s independence referendum by Friday. This may not be easy. The radical left separatist party CUP is calling for the seals to be broken, and there will be attempts to organise sit-ins at the polling stations before the police comes to seal them, which would force the police to clear the sit-in. As we noted yesterday they are about 2,700 polling stations in a Catalan election, which stretches the police’s ability to cover them all simultaneously. The Mossos have responded officially that they will act proportionately, and that there is a risk that sealing the polling places may lead to public unrest. In addition, they are demanding a court order – not just an instruction from the prosecutor – to seal the polling stations.

The Catalan government says that the police is there to guarantee order so that people can exercise their right to vote, while the Spanish government says the police is there to prevent illegal acts from being carried out. The Catalan premier has convened the region’s public safety board, which includes representatives of the Spanish interior minister who will be in attendance. The interior minister had previously set up security coordination meetings for all the Spanish and Catalan police forces, which the Mossos resent as they result in putting them under command of the national police. We have also reported that Mariano Rajoy will miss tomorrow’s informal EU summit in Tallinn, which starts today with a dinner, ostensibly on account of the Catalan referendum. The referendum is scheduled for Sunday. We wonder whether Mariano Rajoy feels he needs to be in Spain on the Friday just in case unrest breaks out.

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Sounds like a lot. The French are serious about wine.

French Vineyards Robbed Of Seven Tonnes Of Grapes (AFP)

At least seven tonnes of grapes have been stolen in the dead of night from vineyards in France’s prime winegrowing region of Bordeaux, following a disastrous yield blamed on poor weather, police say. Three vineyards have had grapes and even whole vines stolen since mid-September, police said on Wednesday. They said about six and a half tonnes of grapes disappeared from a vineyard in Genissac near the world-famous Saint Emilion region, adding that the theft was clearly committed by professional vintners. Between 600 and 700kg (1,300 and 1,500lb) of grapes were stolen from a vineyard in Pomerol, which produces top quality reds. Thieves also uprooted 500 vines from a vineyard in nearby Montagne, police said.

A fourth grape robbery took place in Lalande-de-Pomerol, according to a local press report. Thieves making away with grapes is not a new phenomenon but it has surged this year apparently because of a very low yield. “There’s a great temptation to help oneself from [the vineyard] next door,” an industry expert told AFP on condition of anonymity. France faces its poorest wine harvest since 1945 after an unusually mild March and frosty April, experts said last month, although a hot summer promises to deliver top vintages. The agriculture ministry said output was expected to total 37.2m hectolitres (983m US gallons), 18% less than 2016 and 17% below the average over the past five years.

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Merkel already sold off Greece to please her bankers. Now she’s planning to make things worse in order to cement a coalition.

Schäuble Leaves But Schäuble-ism Lives On (Varoufakis)

Wolfgang Schäuble may have left the finance ministry but his policy for turning the eurozone into an iron cage of austerity, that is the very antithesis of a democratic federation, lives on. What is remarkable about Dr Schäuble’s tenure was how he invested heavily in maintaining the fragility of the monetary union, rather than eradicating it in order to render the eurozone macro-economically sustainable and resilient. Why did Dr Schäuble aim at maintaining the eurozone’s fragility? Why was he, in this context, ever so keen to maintain the threat of Grexit? The simple answer is: Because a state of permanent fragility was instrumental to his strategy for using the threat of expulsion from the euro (or even of Germany’s withdrawal from it) to discipline the deficit countries – chiefly France.

Deep in Dr Schäuble’ thinking there was the belief that, as a federation is infeasible, the euro is a glorified fixed exchange rate regime. And the only way of maintaining discipline within such a regime was to keep alive the threat of expulsion or exit. But to keep that threat alive, the eurozone could not be allowed to develop the instruments and institutions that would stop it from being fragile. Thus, the eurozone’s permanent fragility was, from Dr Schäuble’s perspective an end-in-itself, rather than a failure. The Free Democratic Party’s ascension will see to it that Wolfgang Schäuble’s departure will not alter the policy of doing whatever it takes to prevent the eurozone‘s evolution into a sustainable macroeconomy.

The FDP’s sole promise to its voters was to prevent any of Emmanuel Macron’s plans, for some federation-lite, from being agreed to, and for pursuing Grexit. Even worse, whereas Wolfgang Schäuble understood that austerity plus new loans were catastrophic for countries like Greece (but insisted on them as part of his campaign to discipline France and Italy), his FDP successors at the finance ministry will probably be less ‘enlightened’ believing that the ‘tough medicine’ is fit for purpose. And so the never ending crisis of Europe’s social economy, that feeds the xenophobic political monsters, continues.

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Waterboarding. And worse. Do this to an economy, and it will fail outright. That, then, must be what Berlin is aiming for.

Over Half Of All Greek Enterprises Are In The Red (K.)

At least 56% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are now in debt due to low liquidity and high borrowing, a combination that forbids them from meeting their short-term obligations. Only a fraction have a chance of having their debt restructured, which means that sooner or later they will follow the fate of many of their peers and be forced to shut down. This is the main conclusion of a Piraeus Bank analysis after a sample of 7,896 companies were assessed using its Enterprise Rating System (ERS). Given that over 97% of enterprises in Greece are SMEs, the risk both to them and the economy in general is clear, with an impact on state revenues, employment and bank provisions.

The ERS assessment resulted in four categories of enterprises based on liquidity, solvency, degree of leverage and debt servicing. Just 8.6% of all companies have made it into the A category. They are the healthiest businesses, with high cash flows, even though two-thirds face problems with their earnings. Category B accounts for 35.7% of companies, which display satisfactory performance; however, it should be observed that the obligations of these businesses exceed their assets by 1.2 times. The largest category is C, with two-fifths of all companies, or 40.4%; they are enterprises which have not yet reached the brink as they have some chances at becoming sustainable, but indicate a low degree of debt servicing, finding themselves in the red.

Finally there is category D, which hosts 15.4% of all companies. The vast majority (82.5%) has a substantial problem in terms of sustainability; not only do they have a negative operating profit rate, averaging at -9.1%, but they are also loss-making. The average company in this category has borrowing that is three-and-a-half times its assets and 25 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

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Lesvos Solidarity on Twitter: “Section C in #moria now houses around 200 unaccompanied minors, incl pregnant girls. They are unattended after 17.00.”

Surge In Migration To Greece Fuels Misery In Refugee Camps (G.)

Greece is experiencing a dramatic rise in the number of refugees and migrants entering the country, exacerbating already deplorable living conditions on island camps. The number of people arriving, across land and sea borders, has more than doubled since the beginning of the summer. Authorities estimate arrivals are now at their highest level since March 2016, with over 200 men, women and children being registered every day. “It is dramatic and it is the most vulnerable of the vulnerable coming in,” said Elias Pavlopoulos, who heads Médecins sans Frontières in Greece. “There are whole families fleeing war zones in Syria and Iraq. In the last few months our clinics have seen more people who have suffered violence, who are victims of rape, who have been tortured, than ever before.”

Despite a pledge by EU member states in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers – including 106,000 from Greece and Italy – a mere 29,000 have been moved to other European countries so far. With the 28-nation bloc failing to meet the deadline set out in its own plan, mass demonstrations are expected in capitals across Europe this weekend. Refugees and migrants have been arriving in Greece not only on rickety boats from Turkey but by foot across the frontier between the two countries. On Wednesday, police announced 37 refugees – including 19 children – from Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, had been dumped by smugglers on the national highway outside Thessaloniki.

Human rights groups are increasingly likening the situation to 2015, when, at the height of the migrant crisis that engulfed Europe, Greece saw close to a million people enter the country on onward journeys that often took them to Germany. “We’re living the days of 2015,” said Pantelis Dimitriou from Iliaktida, a local NGO on Lesbos operating accommodation and support centres for the newly arrived. “The flows have become huge. From around 50 to 60 in early July they are now at more than 200 every day. Maybe it is the German elections, maybe it is about Turkey’s [worsening] relations with the EU, or maybe this is the last push before winter, but something is going on.” More worrying is the number of minors making the often treacherous journey to get to Greece. In a statement this week, Save the Children said around 40% of the new arrivals were under the age of 18. Over 1,500 unaccompanied minors are currently on waiting lists in Greece to be housed in child shelters.

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We need a global ban on using antibiotics on farms. But the industry is very powerful.

China’s Love of Meat Is Driving Global Antibiotic Usage (BBG)

Growing global demand for animal protein is good news for the pharmaceutical industry, but a worry for public health. Food animals will consume 200,235 tons of antimicrobial medicines by 2030, 53% more than they were getting in 2013, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. China, already the world’s largest consumer of veterinary antimicrobials, is forecast to lead the charge, with a 59% jump. That bodes badly for the efficacy of these infection-fighting medications. The study’s authors linked the quantity of drugs used on farms with the emergence of foodborne bacteria, like Campylobacter and Salmonella harboring antibiotic-resistance genes. Limiting daily meat intake worldwide to the equivalent of one standard fast-food burger per person could reduce global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals by 66%, the researchers said.

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It was fun while it lasted?!

Tropical Forests Don’t Absorb Carbon. They Emit As Much As All US Transit (Q.)

Since humans began to worry about having put too much carbon in the atmosphere, we’ve considered tropical forests an important “carbon sink.” Their fast growth rate, dense vegetation, and rich soils sucked more carbon out of the atmosphere then they produced. In other words, tropical forests were a natural greenhouse-gas vacuum. Except now, just when the world most needs them to be, they’re not. At some point, it turns out, deforestation, drought, and other forest-disturbing factors tipped the scales, making tropical forests a net producer of carbon rather than a sink, according to a new study published Sept. 28 in the journal Science. Each year, instead of absorbing carbon, these degraded forests are a source of more carbon (roughly 425 teragrams of carbon per year) than an entire year’s worth of US transportation emissions.

Scientists at Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University spent two and a half years trekking to tropical forests in 22 countries, measuring trees’ thickness and recording their growth rate, which is a big factor in how much carbon a forest is absorbing. They then paired their field data with laser remote-sensing data and 12 years of satellite data from NASA’s MODIS satellites. The researcher’s combined approach allowed them to figure out not just losses from dramatic deforestation, but also the harder-to-calculate losses from less obvious factors, like selective logging and small-scale farming. Previous studies have looked at large-scale deforestation in the tropics as a source of carbon, and more recent papers have pointed towards the subtler forms of degradation as a likely underestimated source.

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Sep 242017
 
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Elliott Erwitt Gateway Center Demolition Area Pittsburgh 1950

 

All The Bubbles That Are About To Pop In One Chart (Dillian)
America’s $20 Trillion Debt In Global Context (HowMuch)
Accounting Error Spells Chaos For Global Economy (Graeber)
The American Golden Calf (PL)
Boobs on Credit (Jim Quinn)
Bernanke Past the Point of No Return (AM)
Janet Yellen’s 78-Month Plan for US National Monetary Policy (AM)
A Private Solution For China’s Zombie Company Problem? Unlikely (R.)
More Chinese Cities Impose Property Control Measures (R.)
The Tide Is Starting To Turn Against The World’s Digital Giants (G.)
Why Uber’s Fate Could Herald Backlash Against ‘Digital Disruptors’ (G.)
France’s Far-Left Leader Urges French ‘Resistance’ Against Macron (R.)
Spain Rebuffed in Boosting Control Over Catalonia’s Police (BBG)
No Storm Ever Destroyed a Grid Like Maria Ruined Puerto Rico’s (BBG)

 

 

It’s big graphs day today. This is Jared Dillian’s.

All The Bubbles That Are About To Pop In One Chart (Dillian)

It wasn’t always this way. We never used to get a giant, speculative bubble every seven to eight years. We really didn’t. In 2000, we had the dot-com bubble. In 2007, we had the housing bubble. In 2017, we have the everything bubble. I did not coin the term “the everything bubble.” I do not know who did. Apologies (and much respect) to the person I stole it from. Why do we call it the everything bubble? Well, there is a bubble in a bunch of asset classes simultaneously. And the infographic below that my colleagues at Mauldin Economics created paints the picture best. I don’t usually predict downturns, but this time I bet my reputation that a downturn is coming. And soon.

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Private debt would be more useful. But okay…

America’s $20 Trillion Debt In Global Context (HowMuch)

The U.S. federal government just passed a record $20 trillion in publicly held debt. That’s bigger than the entire economy of every country in the European Union, combined. The debt will only grow higher unless President Trump and the U.S. Congress can agree to unprecedented spending cuts combined with tax increases. Don’t count on that happening anytime soon. Most people think that an eye-popping $20+ trillion debt is insurmountable, and in fact, it is the largest in the world by far. But when you look at another fiscal measure—the ratio of debt-to-GDP—the U.S. is not in the worst situation. Our visualization allows you to quickly see how the U.S. government’s debt compares to other countries around the world. The size of the country correlates to the size of the debt. The U.S. and Japan stand out because they have the highest debts in the world ($20.17T and $11.59T, respectively).

Other countries, like Germany and Brazil, appear much smaller because their debts are comparatively tiny ($2.45T and $1.45T, respectively). We then color-coded each country according to its debt-to-GDP ratio. Green countries have a healthy margin, but dark red and fuchsia countries have debts that are even bigger than their entire economies. The debt-to-GDP ratio is a critical metric for evaluating a country’s fiscal health. It makes a lot of sense for the American government to have a higher debt than a much smaller country, like Germany. That’s why it’s important to consider the GDP of each country, a number which represents the sum of all transactions occurring in the economy. Once you understand the public debt as a percentage of GDP, you get a level playing field for countries on different economic scales. When you think about it like this, the U.S. isn’t even among the ten worst sovereign debts in the world.

Top 10 countries with the Worst Debt-to-GDP Ratios
1. Japan (245% at $11.59B)
2. Greece (173% at $338B)
3. Italy (138% at $138B)
4. Portugal (133% at $274B)
5. Belgium (111% at $111B)
6. Spain (106% at $106B)
7. Canada (106% at $106B)
8. Ireland (105% at $105B)
9. France (98% at $98B)
10. Brazil (82% at $82B)

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Dave Graeber suggests (strongly) that official UK numbers miss -intentionally or not- a huge chunk of household debt. Government debt could be involved, but even then.

Accounting Error Spells Chaos For Global Economy (Graeber)

The thing that always struck me is how much the morality of debt—that anyone in debt has only themselves to blame, that deadbeats are contemptible—stubbornly refuses to die. Even now, when the situation is largely engineered by government policy, the first impulse of pundits and other popular moralists is invariably to assume the real problem must, somehow, be a bunch of lazy freeloaders, living beyond their means. As a result, by the standards of public discourse that exist today—that is, the sort of things it’s considered acceptable coming from the mouth of a politician or TV commentator or government economist—it’s not really legitimate to worry about rising levels of household debt simply because it causes misery or deprivation, if it means millions of actual flesh and blood human beings will be living lives of fear, anxiety, and constant humiliation.


Illustration Rachel Bolton

It’s only really legitimate to worry about rising levels of household debt insofar as it might be likely to cause another financial crisis. (Such a crisis, after all, might well affect the lives of the rich and upper reaches of the professional and managerial classes, that is, the kind of lives that policy-makers feel they have to take account of.) And even then, it must be posed as a moral problem caused by irresponsible self-indulgence—as one Daily Mail headline recently put it: “Your neighbour’s shiny new SUV is about to crash the economy!” Yet the two impulses are clearly in tension. To look at debt in macro-economic terms does make it easier to see it as a structural problem, as the result of self-conscious policy decisions. As a result, everyone seems to want to minimise the problem. Here are the numbers that they published in 2017, which a friend of mine who works in the City translated into handy tabular form:

The attentive reader will note that the image is symmetrical. Up to around 2014, at least, the top and bottom half exactly mirror one another. This is exactly as things should be: it’s an “accounting identity”, as in a ledger sheet, debits and credits have to add up. The remarkable thing is that after 2014, they don’t, and in the projected future, the top and bottom are actually quite different. When I first saw this diagram I was startled and confused. Was I missing something? Was there something about the math I didn’t understand? I passed the image on to two different economists and asked just that: isn’t there something wrong with the numbers here?

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A version of the ugly duckling. Behind Trump’s words on athletes and the anthem. Many people like the athletes, but some 75% of Americans think they should respect the flag. Trump thought this through.

The American Golden Calf (PL)

As a young boy, I enjoyed my family’s bantam chickens that laid very small eggs and hatched very small chicks. Theirs was a small and miniature world. One day one of my bantams started sitting on eggs to hatch its chicks. Something happened to her eggs but she continued to sit, so I decided to put a duck egg under her. Duck eggs are at least three times bigger than bantam eggs and take a few days longer to hatch, but she dutifully sat on the egg several days longer. She hatched the duckling and, as you can imagine, it thought that his world was normal and that the bantam hen was his mother. The duckling eventually grew into a full sized mallard duck, probably five or six times the size of its bantam mother. The full-grown duck would follow its hen mother around as would normal chicks. It was a funny sight to watch.

But I remember thinking, even as a small boy, that the duck’s entire reality was that the bantam hen was his mother and that was the way the world worked. He had no need to consider anything else. This is the world of the American people today. Their perceptions of reality control them and they who control their perceptions control the American people. Our perception of America has always been that she is the mother country and ordained by God, good and just and a beacon of freedom. This is hammered into our psyches from our early days. From pre-school up, we are taught to worship the state. I don’t know if it is still done, but in the public (non)education system, for many years, schoolchildren across the South — and elsewhere, I suppose — recited the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.

Political rallies and government meetings are still often begun with a recitation of the pledge. People say it with patriotic fervor, with their hands placed dutifully on their hearts. Sporting events, political rallies and other public venues are often kicked off with the playing and/or singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Before the song begins, people are instructed to rise, men to remove their hats,and people place their hands over their hearts. They don’t realize its value as a propaganda tool. We have come to equate the flag, the pledge and the national anthem with patriotism, and patriotism with government, country and support for government, support for foreign wars and veterans. Anything less is “un-American.”

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“What happens when a bimbo defaults on her boob loan? How narrow minded of me.”

Boobs on Credit (Jim Quinn)

As I was driving to work yesterday morning on the Schuylkill Expressway a commercial comes on the radio from a plastic surgeon advertising for anyone looking for a better set of boobs. I had never heard a plastic surgeon commercial before, so I thought that was unusual. But, that wasn’t the best part. This plastic surgeon was offering no money down 18 month interest free financing on your new boobs. I wonder if they are moving boobs with subprime debt the same way the auto companies have used subprime debt to move cars. Of course, when a deadbeat defaults on an auto loan the car is easily repossessed. What happens when a bimbo defaults on her boob loan? How narrow minded of me. What happens when some dude who wants to be a bimbo defaults on his/her loan? I guess it was just a matter of time before breast enhancement met debt enhancement in this warped world of materialism, narcissism, financialization, and delusions.

Now that revolving credit has reached a new all-time high of $1 trillion and total consumer debt outstanding has exceeded it’s 2008 peak at $12.8 trillion, the Fed has completed its job of helping the average American again in-debt themselves up to their eyeballs. This is considered a success story in this twisted, perverted, bizarro world we call America today. The solution to an epic debt induced global financial catastrophe caused by Federal Reserve easy money, Wall Street fraud, and Washington DC corruption has been to increase global debt by 50% since 2007, with virtually all of it created by central bankers and the governments they control. In what demented Ivy League educated academic mind would piling $68 trillion more debt on the backs of taxpayers as a cure for a disease caused by the initial $149 trillion of debt be considered rational and sustainable? It’s like having pancreatic cancer and trying to cure it with a self inflicted gunshot.

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The following two pieces are fom the same article.

Bernanke Past the Point of No Return (AM)

In late November 2008, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke put in place a fait accompli. But he didn’t recognize it at the time. For he was blinded by his myopic prejudices. Bernanke, a self-fancied Great Depression history buff with the highest academic credentials, gazed back 80 years, observed several credit market parallels, and then made a preconceived diagnosis. After that, he picked up his copy of A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, turned to the chapter on the Great Depression, and got to work expanding the Fed’s balance sheet. Now here is something all those “Great Depression experts” always neglect to mention: the Fed’s holdings of government securities expanded my more than 400% between late 1929 and early 1933.

Friedman’s often repeated assertion that the Fed “didn’t pump enough” in the early 1930s – which is held up as the gospel truth by nearly everyone – is simply untrue. It is true that the money supply collapsed anyway – but not because the Fed didn’t try to pump it up. Many contingent circumstances mitigated against money supply expansion: too many banks went bankrupt, taking all their uncovered deposit money to money heaven, as there was no FDIC insurance; only 50% of all banks were even members of the Federal Reserve system; no-one wanted to borrow or lend in view of the massive economic contraction and the Hoover administration’s ill-conceived interventionism. We can also tentatively conclude that the economy’s pool of real funding was under great pressure, which was exacerbated as a result of the trade war triggered by the protectionist Smoot-Hawley tariff enacted in June 1930.

The collapse in international trade and investment meant that the pool of savings of the rest of the globe was no longer accessible. Bernanke’s dirty deed commenced with the purchase of $600 billion in mortgage-backed securities, using digital monetary credits conjured up from thin air. By March 2009, he’d run up the Fed’s balance sheet from $900 billion to $1.75 trillion. Then, over the next five years, he ballooned it out to $4.5 trillion. All the while, Bernanke flattered his ego with platitudes that he was preventing Great Depression II. Did it ever occur to him he was merely postponing a much-needed financial liquidation and rebalancing? Did he comprehend that his actions were distorting the economy further and setting it up for an even greater bust?

Perhaps Bernanke understood exactly what he was doing. As many readers have insisted over the years, the Fed works for the big banks and big money interests. Not Main Street. Regardless, the Fed recognizes that the optics of its $4.5 trillion balance sheet have become a bit skewed. The Great Recession officially ended over eight years ago. Why is the Fed’s balance sheet still extremely bloated?


US broad true money supply TMS-2 and assets held by the Federal Reserve

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A 6.5 year plan.

Janet Yellen’s 78-Month Plan for US National Monetary Policy (AM)

By our back of the napkin calculation, starting with October’s initial $10 billion reduction, then incrementally increasing the reduction by $10 billion each quarter until hitting $50 billion per month, and then contracting by $50 billion a month from there, it will take 78-months for the Fed to get its balance sheet back to $900 billion (i.e., where it was before Bernanke’s act of depravity). Thus, in roughly six and a half years, or in March 2024, monetary policy will be back to normal. If you recall, the Soviets operated under five-year plans for the development of the national economy of the USSR. Now, Yellen, an ardent central planner and control freak, has charted the Fed’s 78-month plan for the national monetary policy of the United States. Have you ever heard of something so ridiculous?

However, while the Soviets were zealous believers in their plans, we suspect the Fed will be as committed to the cause as a fat person to a New Year’s Day diet. In truth, the Fed will never, ever reduce its balance sheet to $900 billion. They won’t even get close; they are well past the point of no return. In the early 1930s the Soviet planners under Stalin had a great idea: why not fulfill the 5 year plan in four years? This showed that nothing was impossible for the “new Soviet man” and two plus two was henceforth five. As Marxists will explain, this is in perfect keeping with the rules of polylogism. Even the laws of mathematics must bend to proletarian logic. For starters, financial markets will not allow the Fed to execute its 78-month tightening program according to plan. At some point, credit markets will have a severe reaction.

This would ripple through stock markets and nearly all assets that are propped up by cheap credit. What’s more, if this doesn’t panic the Fed from its master 78-month monetary policy plan, the economy will. No doubt, at some point within the next 78-months the U.S. economy will shrink. What will the Fed do then? Will they continue to tighten in the face of a contracting economy? No way. They will ease, and then they will ease some more. They won’t stop until it is near impossible for an honest person to work hard, save their money, and pay their way in life. Many fine fellows were already pickled over by the Fed in the last easing cycle and lost their way. More are bound to follow.


Guess who’s lying in wait… it will be found out that a creature long held to be extinct was merely hibernating in its cave, sharpening its claws.

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China’s just shifting debt around, hoping it’ll end up under a carpet some place. But the zombies merely start infecting healthy businesses.

A Private Solution For China’s Zombie Company Problem? Unlikely (R.)

China’s latest push to revive its bloated state-owned sector is set to pick up pace this year, with bankers and investors expecting possible spin-offs and asset sales to follow a key Communist Party Congress in October. But the effort is likely to only involve a limited role for private money, even as Beijing has been promoting it as crucial for reforming state-owned enterprises (SOEs), according to people familiar with China’s plans. Beijing would likely lean on cash-rich SOEs like China Life Insurance and Citic Group to bail out the largest of the struggling companies, the people said. They cited China Life stepping in to help China Unicom raise $12 billion last month. A limited role for private capital would raise questions about the depth of any overhaul of the SOEs.

China hopes to speed up the reforms in order to meet ambitious economic growth targets and manage its corporate debt burden. “The current model allows winners, companies doing better, to partially own those doing worse,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis. “In other words, this is a reshuffling of profit, loss among SOEs to a large extent.” China Life is in talks with China Three Gorges New Energy, a unit of the country’s top hydropower developer, according to sources familiar with the matter. China’s state-run companies dominate the country’s key industries, from banking to insurance, energy, and telecoms. They retain an edge over their private rivals in investing both locally and overseas, in part thanks to easier financing.

But they also produce lower returns than their private counterparts and account for the biggest proportion of the bad loans on the books of the country’s banks. The fund raising by Unicom, a state-owned telecoms group, had sparked hopes for the mixed ownership effort, as outlined in a 2015 government plan. The partial privatization of Unicom in August, involving 14 investors, including the tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, was welcomed by markets. But, as Beijing balanced the need for cash with the need for control, China Life ended up with a 10.6 percent stake in the company, nearly a third of the total sold. New investors, including China Life, were given three of 15 board seats.

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Feels half ass.

More Chinese Cities Impose Property Control Measures (R.)

A number of second-tier cities in China have rolled out property speculation curbs in an effort to cool home property sales, according to the official Xinhua News Agency and documents published by some municipal governments. The city of Shijiazhuang, southwest of Beijing, has banned investors from selling newly bought homes for up to five years, while Changsha in Hunan province banned homeowners from buying a second property for up to three years from the time of their first home purchase, Xinhua said. Changsha has also limited property sales to non local residents to one unit per person. The city of Chongqing, as well as Nancang in the southern province of Jiangxi, meanwhile, banned transactions of new and second-hand homes for two years after purchase.

The various measures took effect last week. Additionally, Xian in Shaanxi province has asked real estate developers from Monday to report home prices to local price-monitoring departments before sale and reiterated its pledge to crack down on property price manipulation and speculation. The latest property clampdowns follow moves in June by two Chinese cities, Xian in Shaanxi and Zhenzhou in Henan province, to cool their property markets. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 0.2 percent in August from a month ago, data from the statistics bureau showed.

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I’m not convinced. Besides, Google and Facebook already are branches of the intelligence industry.

The Tide Is Starting To Turn Against The World’s Digital Giants (G.)

In his wonderful book The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began, the literary historian Stephen Greenblatt traces the origins of the Renaissance back to the rediscovery of a 2,000-year-old poem by Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). The book is a riveting explanation of how a huge cultural shift can ultimately spring from faint stirrings in the undergrowth. Professor Greenblatt is probably not interested in the giant corporations that now dominate our world, but I am, and in the spirit of The Swerve I’ve been looking for signs that big changes might be on the way. You don’t have to dig very deep to find them. Some are pretty obvious. In 2014, for example, the European Court of Justice decided that EU citizens had the so-called “right to be forgotten” and that Google would have to comply if it wanted to continue to do business in Europe.

In May this year, the European commission fined Facebook €110m for “providing misleading information” about its takeover of WhatsApp. And in June the commission levied a whopping €2.4bn fine on Google for abusing its monopoly in search. Since the European commission is the only regulator in the world that seems to have the muscle and inclination to take on the internet giants, these developments were relatively predictable. What’s more interesting are various straws in the wind that show how digital behemoths are losing their shine. Many of these relate to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and to the dawning of a realisation that Google and Facebook in particular may have played some role in these political earthquakes.

This was not because the leadership of the two companies actively sought these outcomes, but because people began to realise that the infrastructure they had built for their core business of extracting users’ data and selling it to companies for ad-targeting purposes could be – and was – “weaponised” by political actors in order to achieve political goals. Public concern about these discoveries was not exactly mollified by the responses of the companies’ bosses – which were variously dismissive, evasive (“it’s just the algorithms – nothing to do with us”), disingenuous, inept and politically naive. They had to be like that, because a franker response would reveal that taking responsibility for what happens on their platforms would vaporise the business model that has made them so rich and powerful.

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Why let Uber grow as big as it has and only then act?

Why Uber’s Fate Could Herald Backlash Against ‘Digital Disruptors’ (G.)

In the mind of many Uber supporters, the Transport for London (TfL) decision – coming a few days before Khan’s appearance at the Labour party conference – revealed an organisation in thrall to established labour interests. Sources told the Observer that the decision was communicated to Uber only two minutes before it was announced and that there had been only one meeting in the last year between the company and the senior team at TfL who insisted that the licence renewal could not be discussed. “TfL has once again caved into pressure from unions who never miss an opportunity to rip off passengers,” said Alex Wild, research director at the rightwing pressure group Taxpayers’ Alliance. The pushback against the laissez-faire philosophy of the US west coast’s tech community is being waged on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, calls to regulate technology companies have made strange bedfellows of Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren and ex-White House aide and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon. Last week the former chief strategist to Donald Trump reiterated his view that firms such as Facebook and Google should be regulated like “public utilities”. Meanwhile progressives such as Warren warn of the monopolistic behaviour of Google, Amazon, and Apple while pushing for a renewed debate over antitrust laws. “Silicon Valley is going from being heroes to villains,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s been brewing for quite a while, but there’s a big shift happening.” But, still, the speed of this shift has surprised many. “In our wildest dreams we didn’t think TfL would refuse the licence,” said Maria Ludkin, legal director at the GMB union. “We thought they’d attach conditions to make sure Uber would improve passenger and driver safety.”

[..] Ironically, while many drivers like Abdul have leapt to Uber’s defence, it was the company’s treatment of them that drew attention to the aggressive corporate culture which brought about its downfall in the capital. Last October, following a case brought by the GMB that has wide-ranging implications for all companies in the gig economy, an employment tribunal ruled that Uber’s UK drivers should be classed as workers rather than as self-employed. “We’d had an epidemic of companies saying their people are self-employed when in fact, when you examine their rights and responsibilities, the way they’re acting each day, it’s pretty clear they’re either fully employed or are workers entitled to sickness pay, etc,” Ludkin said. “We brought the Uber case because we had so many drivers coming to us. We looked at their contracts and thought it was a ludicrous idea that 30,000 of them were self-employed, which was Uber’s position.”

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Let’s see what’s left of the famed French protests. Note: the US is not alone in contesting crowd sizes.

France’s Far-Left Leader Urges French ‘Resistance’ Against Macron (R.)

French far-left opposition party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon drew tens of thousands to a rally on Saturday against President Emmanuel Macron’s labor reforms, aiming to reinforce his credentials as Macron’s strongest political opponent. Trade union protests against Macron’s plan to make hiring and firing easier and give companies more power over working conditions seem to be losing steam, but Melenchon said his “France Unbowed” party was calling on unions to join them and together “keep up the fight”. “The battle is not over, it is only starting,” Melenchon told the crowd gathered on the Place de la Republique where the rally against what Melenchon has called “a social coup d‘etat” ended.

In a warning to Macron, who has said he will not bow to street pressure, Melenchon said: “It is the street that defeated the kings, it is the street that defeated the Nazis,” while the crowd chanted “Resistance! Resistance!” It remains to be seen whether Melenchon and his party have the capacity to mobilize the kind of street resistance which forced the last two presidents to dilute their own attempts to loosen the labor code. Melenchon tweeted that over 150,000 demonstrators had turned up while police put the number at 30,000. A campaign rally in March, weeks before the presidential election, drew some 130,000 people, party officials had said.

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Pitting police forces against each other is a recipe for trouble. Peaceful resistance is teh way to go for Catalonia. But…

Spain Rebuffed in Boosting Control Over Catalonia’s Police (BBG)

Police in Spain’s rebel region of Catalonia rejected giving more control to the central government in defiance of authorities in Madrid who are trying to suppress an independence referendum on Oct. 1. The SAP union, the largest trade group for the 17,000-member Mossos d’Esquadra regional force, said it would resist hours after prosecutors Saturday ordered that it accept central-government coordination. The rejection echoed comments by Catalan separatist authorities. “We don’t accept this interference of the state, jumping over all existing coordination mechanisms,” the region’s Interior Department chief Joaquim Forn said in brief televised comments. “The Mossos won’t renounce exercising their functions in loyalty to the Catalan people.”

The disobedience may fuel speculation the Mossos aren’t committed to work with the national Civil Guard in Spain’s largest regional economy. The standoff came a day after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government acknowledged it’s sending more reinforcements to help control street demonstrations and carry out a separate court order to halt the vote. Officials in Madrid have quietly rented cruise ships including the Rhapsody and moored them in Catalan ports as temporary housing for riot police and other security officials being sent to the region in what El Correo newspaper said may ultimately exceed the number of Mossos by the referendum date.

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“100% of the system run by the Puerto Rico Power Authority is offline”. How long till people will start dying in hospitals?

No Storm Ever Destroyed a Grid Like Maria Ruined Puerto Rico’s (BBG)

You don’t even have to leave the airport to see that Hurricane Maria has laid waste to Puerto Rico’s power grid. On Friday, the San Juan airport was abandoned. No electricity meant no air conditioning, and no air conditioning meant hot and muggy air wafting through the terminals. Ceilings were leaking. Floors were wet. Only the military, relying on its own sight and radar systems, was landing planes. The airport is one of the first places crews will restore power – whenever they can get to it. Hundreds are still waiting for the all-clear to move in and start the arduous task of resurrecting Puerto Rico’s grid. The devastation that Maria exacted on Puerto Rico’s aging and grossly neglected electricity system when it slammed ashore as a Category 4 storm two days ago is unprecedented – not just for the island but for all of the U.S.

100% of the system run by the Puerto Rico Power Authority is offline, because Maria damaged every part of it. The territory is facing weeks, if not months, without service as utility workers repair power plants and lines that were already falling apart. “I have seen a lot damage in the 32 years that I have been in this business, and from this particular perspective, it’s about as large a scale damage as I have ever seen,” said Wendul G. Hagler II, a brigadier general in the National Guard, which is assisting in the response. No federal agency dared on Friday to estimate how long it’ll take to re-energize Puerto Rico. If it’s any indication of how far they’ve gotten, the island’s power authority known as Prepa is only now starting to assess the damage.

“We are only a couple of days in from the storm – there could be lots of issues and confusion at the beginning of something like this,” said Kenneth Buell, a director at the U.S. Energy Department who is helping lead the federal response in Puerto Rico. “We are in the phase where we have people queued up and lining up resources.” What Buell does know is Puerto Rico’s power plants seem inexplicably clustered along the island’s south coast, a hard-to-reach region that was left completely exposed to all of Maria’s wrath. A chain of high-voltage lines thrown across the island’s mountainous middle connect those plants to the cities in the north.

Puerto Rico’s rich hydropower resources have also taken a hit. On Friday, the National Weather Service pleaded for people to evacuate an area in the northwest corner of the island after a dam burst. “All areas surrounding the Guajataca River should evacuate NOW. Their lives are in DANGER!,” the service said on Twitter. And that’s not to mention the state of Puerto Rico’s grid before the storm. Government-owned Prepa, operating under court protection from creditors, has more than $8 billion in debt but little to show for it. Even before the storm, outages were common, and the median plant age is 44 years, more than twice the industry average.

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Aug 222017
 
 August 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Pierre Bonnard Nude in an Interior c1935

 

Periods Of Re-Pricing Are Usually Quick And Brutal (Roberts)
US House Price Bubbles 2.0 (Hanson)
QE Is Like Heroin, Says Former UK Treasury Official (G.)
UK Credit Card Lending Booms As Real Wages Fall (Ind.)
Cash is Not The Curse (Mark GB)
US Gross National Debt to Spike by $800 Billion in October? (WS)
Why Peter Costello Is Not Even Half Right On Housing (ND)
Diminishing Returns (Jim Kunstler)
What Would A US Civil War Look Like? (Copley)
Hate is the New Sex (Greer)
Greece Concerns Peak Amid Sudden Spike In Refugee Arrivals (K.)
US Farmers Confused By Monsanto Weed Killer’s Complex Instructions (R.)
UK Blasted Over ‘Shocking’ Export Of Deadly Weedkiller To Poorer Countries (G.)
The Blue Dogs of Mumbai (G.)

 

 

And the longer re-pricing is postponed, through QE etc., the steeper the fall will be.

Periods Of Re-Pricing Are Usually Quick And Brutal (Roberts)

1. Stock prices run in cycles. Periods of re-pricing are usually quick and powerful.

7. Your first loss will often be your best loss. No one is right all the time and you don’t have to be. There are market participants that are immensely profitable by being right only 30% of the time. It is good to have conviction in your investment thesis, but discipline should always trump conviction.

8. Optimism and pessimism in the stock market are contagious. Investor psychology often loses its logic and become emotional. The news media and the most recent price action play a particularly important role in developing moods of mass optimism or pessimism.

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Debt slaves.

US House Price Bubbles 2.0 (Hanson)

A big problem with house prices experiencing even a “moderate” correction of 10% to 20% — already underway in many of the most over-priced regions — is with between 40% and 50% of all house purchases for years being of the “less than 10% down” variety — and because it takes 8% to 10% equity to sell plus the 3% to 10% down payment on the new house — it doesn’t take much downside to swamp the nation in “NEGATIVE EQUITY” once again. And we know for certain that many homeowners rather pay their credit cards and car payments before their mortgage when they are underwater.

ITEM 1) Household income INCREASE needed to Buy the Median Priced House in Key Cities. Bottom Line: On a “national” basis the divergence isn’t too bad…6%. But, in the key cities that drive the US economy, Bubble 2.0 has blown large. This represents significant downside, especially in the sand states, just like in Bubble 1.0.

ITEM 2) DIVERGENCE between Actual Household Income & Income Needed to Buy the Median Priced House. Bottom Line: Here too, on a “national” basis the divergence isn’t too bad…-6%. But, in the key cities that drive the US economy, Bubble 2.0 has blown large.

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It’s worse, actually. Heroin cold turkey is doable though hard. QE cold turkey is definitely not.

QE Is Like Heroin, Says Former UK Treasury Official (G.)

A former senior Treasury mandarin has compared quantitative easing to heroin and called for an end to almost a decade of electronic money printing by central banks. Nick Macpherson was permanent secretary to the Treasury when Bank of England officials started buying UK government bonds to stimulate the economy following the financial crisis. On Monday, he said it was “time to move on” from QE, which is credited with helping Britain into recovery but remains in use nine years later amid concerns over Brexit. Threadneedle Street initially began pumping £200bn into the gilt market in 2009 to boost the economy, before expanding the programme to £435bn, including an extra £60bn following the EU referendum. The bond buying scheme is similar to massive stimulus packages used by other countries, such as the Fed’s $4.5tn of asset purchases (£3.5tn) and the ECB ’s €2.3tn (£2.1tn) plan.

Lord Macpherson’s call comes as pressure mounts on the world’s central bankers to give more clues about how they intend to exit QE in a process known as “normalisation” almost a decade on from the crash. Some indications could be given at a meeting of senior officials at Jackson Hole in the US later this week. Mario Draghi, the ECB governor, is expected to be the star turn at the event watched by global investors, although he is not thought to be preparing to announce the end of QE just yet. While QE is credited with lowering borrowing costs and helping banks to lend more to consumers and businesses, critics say such schemes inflate assets owned by the richest in society, while punishing savers without large amounts of wealth. Macpherson did not single out the specific bond-buying programme of a particular central bank. “QE like heroin: need ever increasing fixes to create a high. Meanwhile, negative side effects increase. Time to move on,” he wrote on Twitter.

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And after all the QE, people are poorer than before.

UK Credit Card Lending Booms As Real Wages Fall (Ind.)

UK consumers are increasingly purchasing goods on plastic with the number of transactions on credit and debit cards jumping 12% in the last year. The increase was the fastest annual rise in the number of card transactions since 2008 and comes after warnings from the Bank of England about the growth of personal debt. Shoppers spent 7.2% more on all types of cards in the year to the end of June, despite real wages falling over the period, data from industry body UK Finance showed. The total value of credit and charge card purchases increased 6.9% over the 12 months with credit card lending accelerating in April, May and June to an annual growth rate of 9%. During those three months, the number of people defaulting on their credit card bills and personal loans “increased significantly”, the Bank of England said in a recent report.

The rise comes as official figures show real earnings have declined. Average pay rose at an annual rate of 2.1% in the three months to June – well below the inflation rate of 2.6% in the year to the end of June. Overall consumer spending was up 1.3% in the year to July, the Office for National Statistics said in a separate release this month. Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange debt charity, expressed concern at the findings. “With our research estimating 3.2 million people are using credit cards to pay for everyday household expenses, the growing stock of credit card debt should focus attention on households in financial difficulties,” he said. Mr Tutton said the growth in credit card cash advances was particularly worrying. This type of borrowing is expensive and can be a warning sign that borrowers are facing financial difficulty.

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More on Ken Rogoff and Larry Summers’ crazy ideas of power over people’s money.

Cash is Not The Curse (Mark GB)

There’s a pub in the Welsh hills, not far from where I live, called ‘The Tylers Arms’ – pronounced ‘tillers’. The name originated, I believe, in the 18th century. The local villagers, who all worked on the land, would go there to pick up their wages in the form of ‘tyles’ – some of which would be immediately exchanged for beer, and thus returned to the landowner…who also owned the pub…and the local store. Thus, the ‘tyles’ circulated regularly, providing employment & cheap produce for the villagers, a steady and almost ‘captive’ profit for the landowner, and stability for the community. As the industrial revolution progressed some of the larger UK manufacturers adopted a similar system, but using fiat currency – e.g. there is a ‘village’ in Birmingham known as Bourneville, which was built by the Cadbury family.

Now before anyone thinks I’ve got unresolved baggage on feudalism, a ‘downer’ on capitalism, or a yearning for socialism…hold your horses please…this is about something far more serious than the ‘isms’. This is about who controls the money. The folks who do that…can, and do, call the tune for the rest of us. And that’s what I want to talk about here.

These days our monetary masters are much more sophisticated – our ‘tyles’ are pieces of paper backed by government fiat. You can work for pretty much whomever you like, and you can buy from whomever you like, but one way or another the government will take a cut of everything you earn and everything you spend. You can do the odd ‘swapsie’ with your pals but you can’t pay taxes with home grown tomatoes – the IRS don’t do vegetables – they can’t digitise them or create them with a keystroke so veggies would confuse the poor dears.

What happens next is technical and varies between territories, so let’s just deal with the ‘myth’: The taxman’s ‘cut’ is used to boost the economy on your behalf by spending it on useful things like building roads and bridges. It also includes an ever-growing list of things that you didn’t even realise you need, like cruise missiles & other stuff that goes ‘BANG’, along with other seemingly ‘essential’ services like bribing foreign governments and funding ‘moderate rebels’ to remove the foreign governments that can’t be bribed. Clearly we’ve come a long way from tyles, especially in the case of the dollar, which can used to bribe governments on seven continents. The chap who owned the Tillers never dreamt of such power – this is considered to be progress…

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Now that Goldman rules the White House, default risk is definitely down.

US Gross National Debt to Spike by $800 Billion in October? (WS)

“There is zero chance, no chance we won’t raise the debt ceiling,” swore Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) at an event in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday. He who couldn’t get his Republican ducks all lined up in a row to get any major legislation passed this year was confident that the Senate would pass a bill that would raise the debt ceiling so that the government could continue to pay for things that Congress told the Government to pay for, and so that the government could service its debts, rather than default on them. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was there with him, pleading once again for a “clean” debt-ceiling increase, according to the Wall Street Journal. His “magic super Treasury powers” that allow the government to conserve cash to avoid having to issue more debt will expire at the end of September, he said.

“This is not about spending money,” he said. “This is about paying for what we’ve spent, and we cannot put the credit of the United States on the line.” The debt ceiling is just under $20 trillion. While the government can issue bonds to redeem maturing bonds – and it does this all the time – it cannot allow the gross national debt to go beyond the debt ceiling. But because it has to continue to pay for things that Congress mandated in its various spending bills over the years, the Treasury scrounges up the money from other government accounts, robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. For example it temporarily short-changes the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. These “extraordinary measures,” as they’re called, or the “magic super Treasury powers,” as Mnuchin called it, run out after a while.

Mnuchin said in his last letter to Congress that the out-of-money-date is September 29. But as in the past, the real out-of-money date can probably be stretched into October. These shenanigans make the entire world shake its collective head and pray that Congress, after going through its charade, will for the umpteenth time raise the debt limit. The other option is a US default. Its global consequences are too ugly to even imagine. But this charade has some peculiar effects, beyond its entertainment value: for months on end, it covers up the true extent of US government debt, and the current surge of this debt. This chart shows the gross national debt going back to 2011, including the last two debt-ceiling fights. Note the long flat lines leading into October or November, followed each time by an enormous spike:

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A good example of exatly how stuck governments and central banks are after blowing housing bubbles. There was an Australian tycoon this week who said the Oz bubble won’t pop because people are too heavily invested in property…

Why Peter Costello Is Not Even Half Right On Housing (ND)

When former treasurer Peter Costello called on Monday for interest rates to be ‘normalised’ upwards to stop Australia’s credit bubble getting any larger, he was very nearly half right. As long as the Reserve Bank keeps the official cash rate at the record low of 1.5%, the economy will become increasingly “unbalanced”, as he put it. And although struggling families will protest that they can’t afford higher mortgage repayments, the other side of that coin is that each successive wave of first home owners is taking on even higher debts. The longer that super-low rates persist, the more debt the banks will be able to balance on the shoulders of new home buyers. That has already created huge property-based inequality. But Mr Costello’s comments weren’t focused on that imbalance – he’s worried about the impact that unstable house prices or teetering banks could have on economic growth more generally.

He told The Australian that “once [the price of] money returns to more normal levels” Australia could face a “big problem” with asset prices and the housing market. Quite right, but what could prevent that? A gradual increase in rates will not, in itself, ‘fix’ the housing market. To do that, two other abnormalities need to be addressed. The one mentioned most by Mr Costello’s side of politics is the availability of suitable dwellings – the ‘supply problem’. That is a wildly misunderstood problem, so I will look at it separately in coming days. But bigger than either low rates or the supposed ‘supply problem’ is the abnormality that Mr Costello himself created – tax laws that reward investors for making annual losses in the housing market, so as to reap lightly-taxed capital gains years down the track.

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“..an impenetrable smokescreen of legal blather in the service of racketeering.”

Diminishing Returns (Jim Kunstler)

These two words are the hinge that is swinging American life — and the advanced techno-industrial world, for that matter — toward darkness. They represent an infection in the critical operations of daily life, like a metabolic disease, driving us into disorder and failure. And they are so omnipresent that we’ve failed to even notice the growing failure all around us. Mostly, these diminishing returns are the results of our over-investments in making complex systems more complex, for instance the replacement of the 37-page Glass-Steagall Act that regulated American banking, with the 848 page Dodd-Frank Act, which was only an outline for over 22,000 pages of subsequent regulatory content — all of it cooked up by banking lobbyists, and none of which replaced the single most important rule in Glass-Steagall, which required the separation of commercial banking from trafficking in securities.

Dodd-Frank was a colossal act of misdirection of the public’s attention, an impenetrable smokescreen of legal blather in the service of racketeering. For Wall Street, Dodd-Frank aggravated the conditions that allow stock indexes to only move in one direction, up, for nine years. During the same period, the American economy of real people and real stuff only went steadily down, including the number of people out of the work force, the incomes of those who still had jobs, the number of people with full-time jobs, the number of people who were able to buy food without government help, or pay for a place to live, or send a kid to college. When that morbid tension finally snaps, as it must, it won’t only be the Hedge Funders of the Hamptons who get hurt. It will be the entire global financial system, especially currencies (dollars, Euros, Yen, Pounds, Renminbi) that undergo a swift and dire re-pricing, and all the other things of this world priced in them.

And when that happens, the world will awake to a new reality of steeply reduced possibilities for supporting 7-plus billion people. The same over-investments in complexity have produced the racketeering colossus of so-called health care (formerly “medicine”), in case you’re wondering why the waiting room of your doctor’s office now looks exactly like the motor vehicle bureau. Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that the citizens of this land have never been so uniformly unhealthy, even as they’re being swindled and blackmailed by their “providers.” The eventual result will be a chaotic process of simplification, as giant hospital corporations, insurance companies, and overgrown doctors’ practices collapse, and the braver practitioners coalesce into something resembling Third World clinics.

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“..such a conflict – physical or political – could, equally, lead to a victory for nationalism over globalism, and to the protection of currencies and values.”

What Would A US Civil War Look Like? (Copley)

There is little doubt that the US, despite the evidence that economic recovery is at hand, could spiral into a self-destructive descent of dysfunction, dystopia, and anomie. The path toward a “second civil war” has significant parallels with the causes of the first US Civil War (1861-65). Both events — the 19th Century event and a possible 21st Century one — saw the polarization of a fundamentally urban, abstract society against a fundamentally regional, traditional society. In some respects, it is a conflict between people with long memories (even if those memories are flawed and selective) and people to whom memories and history are irrelevant. Equally, it is a conflict between identity and materialism, with the abstract social groups (the urban populations) the most preoccupied with short-term material gain.

I have covered the US for 50 years, and my earliest view of it was, a half century ago, that its populations would inevitably polarize into protective islands of self-interest, surrounded by seas of unthinking locusts. What is ironic is that the present islands of wealth and power — the cities — have come to represent short-term materialism, as cities have throughout history. But what is interesting is that, despite the global attention on the political/geographic polarizations occurring in the US and other parts of the Western world, there has been a reversion in other parts of the world to a sense of Westphalian or pre-Westphalian nationalism. The fact that “the West” may have ring-fenced Iran, Russia, and so on, with sanctions and other forms of isolation may well be what ensures their enduring status.

They have avoided the contagion of globalism. Russia, indeed, recovered from the Soviet form of globalism in 1991. An urban globalist “victory” over Trump and Brexit would trigger that meltdown toward a form of civil societal collapse – civil war in some form or other – as the regions disavow the diktats of the cities. That would, in turn, bring about the global economic uncertainty which could impact the PRC and then the en-tire world. But such a conflict – physical or political – could, equally, lead to a victory for nationalism over globalism, and to the protection of currencies and values. We have seen this cycle repeated for millennia. It is the eternal battle.

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The Archdruid from a few weeks ago.

Hate is the New Sex (Greer)

It occurred to me the other day that there’s a curious disconnect between one of the most common assumptions most of us make about how to make the world better, on the one hand, and the results that this assumption has had when put into practice, on the other. It’s reminiscent of the realization that led James Hillman and Michael Ventura to title a once-notorious book of theirs We’ve Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse. In this case as in that one, something that’s supposed to make things better doesn’t seem to be doing the trick—in fact, quite the opposite—and it’s time that we talked about that. You know the assumption I have in mind, dear reader. It’s the conviction that certain common human emotions are evil and harmful and wrong, and the way to make a better world is to get rid of them in one way or another.

That belief is taken for granted throughout the industrial societies of the modern West, and it’s been welded in place for a very long time, though—as we’ll see in a moment—the particular emotions so labeled have varied from time to time. Just now, of course, the emotion at the center of this particular rogue’s gallery is hate. These days hate has roughly the same role in popular culture that original sin has in traditional Christian theology. If you want to slap the worst imaginable label on an organization, you call it a hate group. If you want to push a category of discourse straight into the realm of the utterly unacceptable, you call it hate speech. If you’re speaking in public and you want to be sure that everyone in the crowd will beam approval at you, all you have to do is denounce hate.

At the far end of this sort of rhetoric, you get the meretricious slogan used by Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign last year: LOVE TRUMPS HATE. I hope that none of my readers are under the illusion that Clinton’s partisans were primarily motivated by love, except in the sense of Clinton’s love for power and the Democrats’ love for the privileges and payouts they could expect from four more years of control of the White House; and of course Trump and the Republicans were head over heels in love with the same things. The fact that Clinton’s marketing flacks and focus groups thought that the slogan just quoted would have an impact on the election, though, shows just how pervasive the assumption I’m discussing has become in our culture.

Now of course most people these days, when confronted with the sort of things I’ve just written, are likely to respond, “Wait, are you saying that hate is good?”—as though the only alternatives available are condemning something as absolutely bad or praising it as absolutely good. Let’s set that simplistic reaction to one side for the moment, and ask a different question: what happens when people decide that some common human emotion is evil and harmful and wrong, and decide that the way to make a better world is to get rid of it?

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Watch Erdogan. German elections coming up.

Greece Concerns Peak Amid Sudden Spike In Refugee Arrivals (K.)

A sudden spike in the number of undocumented migrants arriving from neighboring Turkey has led to concern on the part of Greek authorities, who expect the next few days to reveal whether the rapid increase is a random occurence or the beginning of a new trend. A total of 643 migrants who had set out from the Turkish coast landed on the islands of the eastern Aegean between Friday and Monday morning, according to government figures. Another 114 people arrived in two separate smuggling boats later on Monday, putting authorities on alert.

Early on Monday, a vessel belonging to the European Union’s border monitoring agency Frontex spotted a smuggling boat off the coast of Chios and intercepted the 53 migrants who had been aboard. Later in the day another 61 migrants were found in a boat that had reached Samos and were also detained. Tensions are already high in reception centers on several Aegean islands. Most of the facilities are at around twice their capacity as hundreds of migrants and refugees await the outcome of asylum applications or deportation orders. Tolerance has been tested in several island communities as dozens of migrants continue to arrive daily from nearby Turkish shores. There are currently more than 14,400 migrants living on camps on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

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Confused? The instructions are impossible to follow, not confusing.

US Farmers Confused By Monsanto Weed Killer’s Complex Instructions (R.)

With Monsanto’s latest flagship weed killer, dicamba, banned in Arkansas and under review by U.S. regulators over concerns it can drift in the wind, farmers and weed scientists are also complaining that confusing directions on the label make the product hard to use safely. Dicamba, sold under different brand names by BASF and DuPont, can vaporize under certain conditions and the wind can blow it into nearby crops and other plants. The herbicide can damage or even kill crops that have not been genetically engineered to resist it. To prevent that from happening, Monsanto created a 4,550-word label with detailed instructions. Its complexity is now being cited by farmers and critics of the product. It was even singled out in a lawsuit as evidence that Monsanto’s product may be virtually impossible to use properly.

At stake for Monsanto is the fate of Xtend soybeans, it largest ever biotech seed launch. Monsanto’s label, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed and approved, instructs farmers to apply the company’s XtendiMax with VaporGrip on its latest genetically engineered soybeans only when winds are blowing at least 3 miles per hour, but not more than 15 mph. Growers must also spray it from no higher than 24 inches above the crops. They must adjust spraying equipment to produce larger droplets of the herbicide when temperatures creep above 91 degrees Fahrenheit. After using the product, they must rinse out spraying equipment. Three times. “The restriction on these labels is unlike anything that’s ever been seen before,” said Bob Hartzler, an agronomy professor and weed specialist at Iowa State University. The label instructions are also of interest to lawyers for farmers suing Monsanto, BASF and DuPont over damage they attribute to the potent weed killer moving off-target to nearby plants.

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It’s not ‘shocking’, it’s criminal.

UK Blasted Over ‘Shocking’ Export Of Deadly Weedkiller To Poorer Countries (G.)

Paraquat, a pesticide so lethal that a single sip can be fatal, has caused thousands of accidental deaths and suicides globally, and was outlawed by EU states in 2007. But Swiss pesticide manufacturer Syngenta is exporting thousands of tonnes of the substance to other parts of the world from an industrial plant in Huddersfield. Campaigners have condemned the practice as an “astonishing double standard”, while a UN expert said it was deeply disquieting that the human rights implications of producing a substance for export that is not authorised in the EU were being ignored. “The fact that the EU has decided to ban the pesticide for health and environmental reasons, but they still export it to countries with far weaker regulation and far weaker controls, is shocking to me,” said Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on toxic wastes.

Syngenta is responsible for 95% of Europe’s exports of paraquat, which it sells under the brand name Gramoxone. The substance can be absorbed through the skin and has been linked with Parkinson’s disease. Syngenta has exported 122,831 tonnes of paraquat from the UK since 2015, an average of 41,000 tonnes a year, according to export licensing data analysed by the Swiss NGO Public Eye and shared with the Guardian. Since 2015, when a facility in Belgium stopped exporting paraquat, all EU exports of the pesticide have come from Syngenta’s UK base, according to Public Eye. Almost two-thirds of these exports by volume – 62% – go to poor countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Guatemala, Venezuela and India. A further 35% is exported to the US, where paraquat can only be applied by licensed users.

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We are a brilliant species.

The Blue Dogs of Mumbai (G.)

Authorities in Mumbai have shut down a manufacturing company after it was accused of dumping untreated industrial waste and dyes into a local river that resulted in 11 dogs turning blue. The group of strangely coloured canines was first spotted on 11 August, according to the Hindustan Times, prompting locals to complain to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board about dyes being dumped in the Kasadi river, where the animals often swim. Footage shows the animals roaming the streets with bright blue fur. “It was shocking to see how the dog’s white fur had turned completely blue,” said Arati Chauhan, head of the Navi Mumbai Animal Protection Cell, told the Times. “We have spotted almost five such dogs here and have asked the pollution control board to act against such industries.”

Chauhan had posted images of the blue dogs on the group’s Facebook page, saying the “pollutants from Taloja Industrial area not only ruining the water bodies affecting humans there but also affecting animals, birds, reptiles”. The board investigated, shutting down the company on Wednesday after confirming that canines were turning blue due to air and water pollution linked to the plant. An animal welfare agency managed to capture one of the dogs and wash some of the blue dye off. The group concluded that animal seemed unharmed in all other ways. The Kasadi River flows through an area with hundreds of factories.

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Aug 182017
 
 August 18, 2017  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Edward S. Curtis Slow Bull Dakota Sioux Medicine Man In Prayer 1907

 

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)
The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)
Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)
Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)
So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)
Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)
China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)
‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)
Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)
Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)
Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)
Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

 

 

After a week of senseless violence and rhetoric, we could sure do with a medicine man praying for peace. I know, they say this is what the Fourth Turning looks like. But I don’t have to like it. Seeing some of the pictures of traumatized people in Barcelona I couldn’t help thinking how much they looked like those I’ve seen from Syria and Libya. Senseless violence.

 

 

Part of a longer piece on retirement distributions. Very strong graph.

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)

Since 1877, secular bull years have totaled 80 vs. 52 for bears, which is a 60/40 ratio. Surprised? Bear markets happen more often than investors are led to believe. They usually occur at times of overvaluation which makes recent retirees or those close to retirement at greater risk of experiencing negative or poor future returns. Bad luck or rotten timing. Either way, it’s going to be important to remain cognizant of portfolio distribution rates, place renewed priority on risk management, and adjust spending accordingly perhaps over the next ten years. Those who were proactive to minimize stock and high-yield bond portfolio risk (like several of the writers for Real Investment Advice), and redeployed capital into stocks at 13x earnings in the summer of 2009, helped new retirees at that time meet their retirement objectives. In addition, they have experienced a cyclical tailwind in stocks that has allowed greater distribution rates. Great luck!

Stock market cycles are vast and span decades. Don’t stumble into a Recency Bias trap where you believe current complacent market conditions lay the path to a smooth, high-return future. Markets are mean reverting mechanisms. Cycles indeed change. Usually, markets are more volatile with periods of 5% pullbacks occurring every 3-4 months. As investors, this year we’ve witnessed shallow retracements followed up by buys on the dips. An environment like this fosters overconfidence. Volatility may excite traders and be helpful to those who are seeking lower prices to purchase risk assets. For those in retirement distribution mode, volatility and corrections have potential to place portfolio longevity in jeopardy.

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“Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo…”

The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)

The Fed confirmed yesterday that stocks are in a bubble. Lost amidst the usual Fed-speak about inflation and other items were the following nuggets. 1) “Equities” (read: stocks) were the primary reason the Fed discussed financial stability risks. 2) The Fed raised its assessment of financial stability from “notable” to “elevated.” 3) The Fed discussed “stock valuations.” This is simply incredible. Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo. Put another way, the stock market bubble is now so massive that even THE FED is talking about it. Indeed, the Fed is even openly states that the bubble might cause financial instability (read: a CRASH). It’s not difficult to see what the Fed is talking about. Based on their cyclical adjusted price to earnings ratio (CAPE) stocks are in CLEAR bubble territory.

As you can see, stocks are currently as overpriced as they were at the 1929 peak. Indeed, the only time stocks were MORE expensive was the Tech Bubble: the single largest stock market bubble in history. They say you don’t ring a bell at the top. But what the Fed did yesterday is DARN close. So what happens when the markets wake up to the fact that yet another massive bubble is beginning to burst?

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Freeze it before the collapse.

Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)

In my book The Road to Ruin, I discuss a phenomenon called “ice-nine.” The name is taken from a novel, Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. In the novel, a scientist invents a molecule he calls ice-nine, which is like water but with two differences. The melting temperature is 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit (meaning it’s frozen at room temperature), and whenever ice-nine comes in contact with water, the water turns to ice-nine and freezes. The ice-nine is kept in three vials. The plot revolves around the potential release of ice-nine into water, which would eventually freeze the rivers and oceans and end all life on Earth. Cat’s Cradle is darkly comedic, and I highly recommend it. I used ice-nine in my book as a metaphor for financial contagion.

If regulators freeze money market funds in a crisis, depositors will take money from banks. The regulators will then close the banks, but investors will sell stocks and force the exchanges to close and so on. Eventually, the entire financial system will be frozen solid and investors will have no access to their money. Some of my readers were skeptical of this scenario. But I researched it carefully and provided solid evidence that this plan is already in place — it’s just not well understood. But the ice-nine plan is now being put into practice. Consider a recent Reuters article that admitted elites would likely shut down the entire system when the next financial crisis strikes. The article claimed that the EU is considering actions that would temporarily prevent people from withdrawing money from banks to prevent bank runs.

“The desire is to prevent a bank run, so that when a bank is in a critical situation it is not pushed over the edge,” said one source. Very few people are aware of these developments. They get a brief mention in the media, if they get mentioned at all. But people could be in for a shock when they try to get their money out of the bank during the next financial crisis. Think of it as a war on currency or a war on money. Even the skeptics can see how the entire financial system will be frozen solid in the next crisis. The only solution is to have physical gold, silver and bank notes in private storage. The sooner you put your personal ice-nine protection plan in place, the safer you’ll be.

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“..the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties)..”

Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)

Last summer, researchers at the IMF settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality. Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it’s a meaningless insult: they’re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.)

But “neoliberalism” is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses. Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and – always – to cut taxes and deregulate. But “neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.

Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression. In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

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I’m still convinced that people will react shocked if China is the first domino. But though Charlene Chu is right that China controls most of its system, its control over Chinese obligations abroad isn’t nearly that strong. Xi knows this, and that’s why Chinese purchases abroad are shrinking. China has become part of the global financial system with monopoly money. And sure, it has dollars and Treasuries, but they’re neither limitless nor limitlessly fungible. Weakest point? Local governments who have borrowed from foreign sources. Or from domestic ones that get their credit from foreigners. Shadow banks.

So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)

Corporate debt in China has soared to $18 trillion, or 169% of GDP, the largest pile of corporate debt in the world, according to the worried BIS. The OECD has warned about it earlier this year. The New York Fed warned about this debt boom in February and that it could lead to a “financial crisis,” but that authorities have many tools to control it. The IMF regularly warns about China’s corporate debt, broken-record-like, and did so again a few days ago, lambasting the authorities for their reluctance to tamp down on the growth of debt. The “current trajectory,” it said, “could eventually lead to a sharp adjustment.” The Chinese authorities – the government and the central bank, supported by the state-owned megabanks – have allowed some bonds to default, rather than bail them out, to make some kind of theoretical point, and they have been working furiously on a balancing act, tamping down on the credit growth that fuels the economy and simultaneously stimulating the economy with more credit to keep the debt bubble from imploding.

A misstep could create a global mess. “Everyone knows there’s a credit problem in China, but I find that people often forget about the scale; it’s important in global terms,” Charlene Chu told the FT. Back in 2011, when she was still a China banking analyst at Fitch Ratings, she went out on a limb with her radical estimates that there was much more debt than disclosed by the central bank, particularly in the shadow banking system, that banks were concealing risky loans in off-balance-sheet vehicles, and that this soaring opaque debt could have nasty consequences. Her outlandish views at the time have since then become the consensus. And this pile of debt is in much worse shape than officially acknowledged, she says in her latest report, cited by the FT. She’s now with Autonomous Research.

She figured that by the end of 2017, bad debt in China could hit 51 trillion yuan, or $7.6 trillion. Or about 68% of GDP! It would take the bad-debt ratio to an astronomical 34% of all loans, and way above the 5.3% that the authorities are proffering. And the authorities – the government, the central bank, supported by the state-owned banks – are now pulling all levers to keep this under control. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.”

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More Chu. Remarkable how she says “.. the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives.” Remarkable because that describes America as much as it does China.

Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)

The first time we laid out the dire calculations about what is perhaps the biggest mystery inside China’s financial system, namely the total amount of its non-performing loans, by former Fitch analyst Charlene Chu we called it a “neutron bomb” scenario, because unlike virtually every other rosy forecast the most dire of which topped out at around 8%, Chu argued that the amount of bad debt in China was no less than a whopping 21% of total loans. While traditional bank loans are not Chu’s prime focus – she looks at the wider picture, including shadow banking – she says her work suggests that nonperforming loans may be at 20% to 21%, or even higher. The chart below shows just how much of an outlier Chu’s stark forecast was in comparison to her peers, and especially the grotesquely low and completely fabricated official number released by the banks and the government.

Recall that one of the biggest scandals in China in 2014 was the realization (as many had warned previously) that millions of tons of commodities were rehypothecated countless times, and thus “pledged” as collateral to numerous counterparties, and that as a result these same counterparties were unable to make sense of who owns what at one of China’s largest ports, Qingdao. In this context, it is safe to assume that loss given default rates in China are if not 100% (or more, which is impossible in theoretical terms but in practice is quite possible, as another curious side effect of unlimited collateral rehypothecation), then as close to it as possible.

Fast forward to today, when Charlene Chu, described by the FT as “one of the most influential analysts of China’s financial system” is back with a revised estimate that the bad debt in China has now reached a stunning $6.8 trillion above official figures and warns that the government’s ability to enforce stability has allowed underlying problems to go unchecked. [..] So if Chu held the wildly outlier view nearly two years ago that China’s NPLs amount to 21% of total, what is her latest estimate? The number is a doozy: in her latest report, Chu estimates that bad debt in China’s financial system will reach as much as Rmb51 trillion , or $7.6 trillion, by the end of this year, more than five times the value of bank loans officially classified as either non-performing or one notch above.” That estimate implies a bad-debt ratio of 34%, orders of magnitude above the official 5.3% ratio for those two categories at the end of June.

One factor that has foiled countless shorts over the years is that Beijing can simply order state-owned banks to keep lending to a lossmaking zombie company or to a smaller lender that relies on short-term interbank funding to stay liquid, and that’s precisely what has been happening, when looking at the various non-conventional credit pathways in China in recent years, which include Wealth Management Products, Bank Loans to Non-Bank Institutions, Shadow Banking, Repos and Certificates of Deposit.

But Chu said the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives. That said, the recent spike in corporate bankruptcies indicates that even Beijing is slowly shifting to a more “market” driven stance. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.” Finally, putting it all in context is the following chart showing the total size of China’s financial sector, which as of the latest quarter has grown to $35 trillion, double the size of the US.

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Subtle tactics from Xi. Shift the debt but keep it high. What do you think the odds are that after the Party Congress China will withdraw into itself?

China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)

The Chinese government is moving to tackle high debt levels, but the country is still borrowing more, Deutsche Bank said in a report released Thursday. That’s because short-term consumer debt in China has begun to surge as authorities try to alleviate the high levels of corporate indebtedness. The redistribution comes as Beijing is trying to strike a balance between stability and strength in its economy. Household debt in China is growing “very fast” and has accelerated in the last three to four months, according to Deutsche Bank: “If we focus purely on the consumer lending … then China has been undergoing something akin to a consumer lending frenzy.” According to Deutsche Bank, corporate credit has fallen to 45% of net new credit, down from 65% in the last 10 years. Instead, Beijing is allowing households and governments to borrow more to fund growth, which is targeted for around 6.5% in 2017, said the analysts.

Now, short-term consumer credit is growing 35% year-over-year, and may hit about 40% year-over-year by the end of December at the current trend, Deutsche Bank said. The bank said it isn’t yet clear where exactly the short-term consumer credit is being deployed, although 70 to 80% of that debt has historically been credit card-related. Overall household credit growth in China, the analysts noted, is growing around 24% year-over-year. At the end of the first half of 2017, corporate the debt-to-GDP ratio fell to 165% from the peak of 169% in the first quarter of 2016. That was “more of a ‘stabilization’ than a significant reduction,” Deutsche Bank said, calling it an “explosion” of growth. Meanwhile, household and government debt however rose by 8 to 9% of GDP. “So when viewed in aggregate China is still leveraging up apace,” the Deutsche Bank report concluded.

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Maybe somoneone should explain to Warren what the Fed is and does. Or Washington for that matter.

‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)

Wells Fargo’s effort to turn the page on consumer fraud scandals is falling short. That’s according to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who has requested the Federal Reserve remove the bank’s board members who served between May 2011 and July 2015 in response to a series of vast consumer fraud scandals. The bank, already in hot water for creating millions of unauthorized accounts, recently admitted to also selling auto insurance without customers’ knowledge. Wells Fargo’s response? It has promoted an ex-Fed board governor, Elizabeth Duke, to chairwoman of the board. Duke, a champion of community banks while at the Fed, became a Wells Fargo director in 2015 and was named vice chair last year after the first round of scandals broke and led to the resignation of then-CEO John Stumpf.

Business Insider contacted Senator Warren to get her reaction. “Letting a few board members retire early and shuffling around current board members simply doesn’t cut it,” Warren said in an email. “The Fed should remove all remaining board members who served during the fake-accounts scandal.” Warren also renewed her call for board members’ removal with a new letter to Fed chairman Janet Yellen dated August 16, and voicing her dissatisfaction at what she sees as central bank inaction. “Instead of taking steps to remove the responsible Wells Fargo Board members, the Federal Reserve has actually sought to reduce their obligations and the obligations of other directors at the country’s biggest banks,” the letter said. In July, Warren repeatedly pressed Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the issue during recent Congressional testimony but Yellen would only say the central bank had the power to remove the directors — not that it had any inclination to do so.

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More free rides for bankers. Warren! Oh wait, your own party takes their contributions.

Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)

Deutsche Bank and Bank of America agreed to pay a combined $65.5 million to settle investor litigation accusing large banks of rigging the roughly $9 trillion government agency bond market over a decade. Preliminary settlements totaling $48.5 million for Deutsche Bank and $17 million for Bank of America were filed on Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and require a judge’s approval. Both banks denied wrongdoing. The settlements were the first in litigation accusing 10 banks of engaging in a “brazen conspiracy” to rig the market for U.S. dollar-denominated supranational, sub-sovereign and agency (SSA) bonds, court papers show. The investors are led by the Iron Workers Pension Plan of Western Pennsylvania, KBC Asset Management, and the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Plan of Northern California.

They accused banks of communicating by phone, chatrooms and instant messaging to share pricing data and function as a collective “super-desk,” while letting traders coordinate their strategies, to boost profit. This collusion allegedly ran from 2005 to 2015, and forced customers to accept unfair prices on bonds they bought and sold, court papers show. BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Agricole, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Nomura, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank were also sued, and all sought dismissals. U.S. regulators have also examined possible manipulation in the SSA bond market. The Manhattan court is home to a slew of private litigation accusing big banks of conspiring to rig various financial markets, interest rate benchmarks and commodities. Late Wednesday night, another group of investors sued six banks, claiming they rigged the more than $1 trillion stock lending market.

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Simply how all of Washington works.

Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)

Mike Pence has been among the Trump administration’s most prominent voices pressing to replace the Affordable Care Act, repeal post-crisis financial regulations, privatize American infrastructure and promote fossil fuels. Those positions would benefit the industries that have been directly lobbying Pence since he was elected vice president, according to federal documents reviewed by International Business Times. Amid speculation that Pence could mount his own presidential bid — or replace Trump if he leaves office early — the former Indiana governor and U.S. congressman has been directly lobbied by major health care and drug companies, Wall Street firms, oil and gas interests and industry groups interested in shaping a federal infrastructure privatization initiative.

Pence’s office has also been lobbied by his former congressional chief of staff on behalf of insurance, defense contracting and telecommunications companies — and that lobbying revolved around health care policy, defense spending and net neutrality. Pence has enthusiastically backed the policies by the lobbying firms. While other vice presidents have been the target of lobbying in the past, Pence has been viewed as one of the most powerful vice presidents in recent history. He is a longtime politician serving a president with no experience in elected office, and during his vice-presidential selection process, Trump was reportedly offering potential running mates a vast policy portfolio to oversee. Pence also oversaw Trump’s White House transition, which shaped the administration’s personnel decisions and many of its policy proposals.

Companies that have lobbied the vice president have spent tens of millions of dollars in total federal lobbying so far this year. Here is a deeper look at the major industries lobbying him — and what exactly they have been pushing for in their efforts to influence the vice president. Despite his onetime support for expanding Obamacare subsidies in his home state, Pence has reversed course and led the Trump administration’s legislative bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act — just as health insurers have been lobbying him in 2017.

“If you’re one of those Americans who want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, we literally are days, or maybe just weeks, away from being able to accomplish that historic objective,” he told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh last month. “We believe if they can’t pass this carefully crafted repeal and replace bill — we do those two things simultaneously — we ought to just repeal only and then have enough time built into that legislation to craft replacement legislation.” The Pence-led repeal effort could be a financial boon to health insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as well as UnitedHealthcare Group — both which have been in direct contact with Pence, according to records reviewed by IBT.

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Libertarian view.

Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)

So President Trump closed down his “Manufacturing Council” and no one cheered? What a shame. Why was there a “Manufacturing Council” to begin with? It’s not the job of the president to meddle with our economy. His job description says nothing about benefitting “manufactures” or “scientists” or “Silicon Valley” or anyone else. These “Councils” are breeding grounds for the cronyism that has virtually destroyed the American Dream. If a CEO has the ear of the president, do you think he’s going to “advise” the president to do anything that will hurt his own business? On the other hand, would the CEO be tempted to advise the president to hurt his competitors, both foreign and domestic? Would the CEO advise the president to make it hard for start-ups and entrepreneurs to compete?

Would he advise for subsidies? Strict licensing laws? The president doesn’t need Advisory Councils, Czars, or any other destroyer of our economic liberties. Let the CEO’s be “counciled” themselves by free market prices. Let them deal with economic reality as it is, not massage the president for unconstitutional interventions. Let them stand on their own. Either satisfy consumers profitably, or fold up so that other people can. The president, at the same time, should stop pretending that he can push buttons and pull levers to make the economy run. Nothing could be further from the truth. Government intervention only stifles the economy.

The economy continues to function despite the political intrusions that exist. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are creative enough to always find ways around so-called government “regulations”. There’s always a loophole somewhere. But why make it hard on entrepreneurs to begin with? Just get the heck out of the way! But alas, the government and multi-national corporations are attached at the hip. One scratches the back of the other. Mr. President, close down all the “Advisory Councils,” and keep your hands off the economy.

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Spain’s views on this may have changed last night.

Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

Spain lacks the resources and capacity to protect the rising number of refugees and migrants reaching it by sea, the UN refugee agency has said. The warning from UNHCR comes as the Spanish coastguard said it rescued 593 people in a day from 15 small paddle boats, including 35 children and a baby, after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar. The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, with the one-day figure the largest since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period. About 9,300 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year, while a further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the EU’s only land borders with Africa.

María Jesús Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said police were badly under-resourced and there was a lack of interpreters and a shortage of accommodation for the new arrivals. “The state isn’t prepared and there aren’t even the resources and the means to deal with the usual flow of people arriving by sea,” she said. “Given the current rise, we’re seeing an overflow situation when it comes to local authorities trying to cope at arrival points.” Vega said the agency was seeing a very high number of vulnerable people including women, victims of people-trafficking, and children. “What we’re asking is for there to be the right mechanisms in place to ensure people are treated with dignity when they come,” she said.

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Jul 282017
 
 July 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Gordon Burt Bond Street, Wellington, New Zealand c1957

 

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)
Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)
US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)
Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)
Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)
Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)
Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)
Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)
US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)
The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)
France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)
Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)
EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

 

 

Three things:

1) Boy, was I right to say US politics should be observed through the eyes of Shakespeare.

2) Playing with people’s health care, let alone for petty political reasons, is not forgiveable.

3) What a bunch of has-beens these people are. Limit their terms, close the revolving doors, and let the future be decided by people young enough to actually have a future. Oh, and get money out of politics.

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)

The Senate blocked the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic floor vote early Friday morning, yet again stalling — for now — the key campaign goal that eludes the GOP six months into the Trump administration. Three GOP defections — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — sank the measure in a 49-51 vote. McCain, who recently returned to the Senate after getting diagnosed with brain cancer, cast his “no” vote to audible gasps on the chamber’s floor, according to reporters there. Senate Republicans released the plan late Thursday just hours before voting on an amendment to take up the bill. The GOP could only afford to lose two votes on the proposal, which many senators suggested they would not even want to see become law.

The measure came after separate pushes to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed amid GOP divisions. Several Republican senators slammed the plan and appeared to not even want it to become law. It marks another blow to the sprawling agenda that Republicans hoped to accomplish when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held both chambers of Congress in November. After the vote, a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “clearly a disappointing moment.” “So yes, this is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed … I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time,” McConnell said.

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But this they do agree on. More reasons to get rid of the old order in Washington.

Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)

Vladimir Putin has accused US lawmakers of “insolence”, and promised Russia will retaliate if the latest round of US sanctions against Russia are signed into law. The House of Representatives voted by 419 votes to three on Tuesday to pass the new sanctions bill, which targets Russia as well as North Korea and Iran. The US legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Thursday, and will now go to Donald Trump for his signature. Trump, who enjoyed two warm conversations with Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, is likely to face a major backlash if he attempts to veto the legislation, with his administration already embroiled in a Russia scandal. “We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond,” said Putin at a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö.

“It’s impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country,” Putin said, referring to the sanctions. “This practice is unacceptable – it destroys international relations and international law.” Putin was vague on exactly how Russia might respond. The newspaper Kommersant quoted two unnamed sources saying a range of potential responses was under consideration in Moscow, including expelling US diplomats, seizing diplomatic properties, increasing restrictions on US companies working in Russia and halting enriched uranium shipments to US power plants. [..] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied any meddling in the US election, while US intelligence agencies say they have overwhelming evidence of a coordinated Russian campaign. Putin on Thursday described the allegations as “hysteria”, and said: “It’s a great pity that Russian-US relations are being sacrificed to resolve questions of domestic politics.”

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And you thought the US housing bubble was over?

US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)

The striking Case-Shiller regional charts shown below, courtesy of MHanson.com, make Mark Hanson angry: “so, 2006/2007 was the largest house price bubble ever, but there is nothing to see here in 2017?” and sarcastically points out that “if this isn’t a house price bubble, I would hate to see one.” His bottom line: “If 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak.”

[..] Income required to buy the avg priced builder house is at historical highs and has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. Historically low growth & rebound relative to resales suggest “lack of supply” meme in the Existing Sales market is over-stated.

“Peak builder is here.”
1) New Home Sales “up to” 1995 levels after $15 TRILLION in debt and Fed liquidity aimed largely at the sector.
2) Builder pricing power largely flat for 2-years.
3) Income required to buy the average priced builder house has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. This obviously explains why sales are only at 600k SAAR now vs 1.2 million in Bubble 1.0. Reversion to this mean will occur…either thru a sharp rise in income; new exotic loan programs, which make payment less; or house prices dropping.

4) Last time builders were this euphoric was the peak of the biggest credit bubble in history.

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Rinse, forget and repeat.

Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)

Every major market peak, and subsequent devastating mean reverting correction, has ever been the result of the exact ingredients seen previously. Only the ignorance of its existence has been a common theme. The reason that investors ALWAYS fail to recognize the major turning points in the markets is because they allow emotional “greed” to keep them looking backward rather than forward. Of course, the media foster’s much of this “willful” blindness by dismissing, and chastising, opposing views generally until it is too late for their acknowledgement to be of any real use. The next chart shows every major bubble and bust in the U.S. financial markets since 1871 (Source: Robert Shiller)

At the peak of each one of these markets, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” Yet, in the end, it was something that was unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that yanked the proverbial rug from beneath investors. What will spark the next mean reverting event? No one knows for sure, but the catalysts are present from: • Excess leverage (Margin debt at new record levels) •IPO’s of negligible companies (Blue Apron, Snap Chat) • Companies using cheap debt to complete stock buybacks and pay dividends, and; • High levels of investor complacency.

Either individually, or in combination, these issues are all inert. Much like pouring gasoline on a pile of wood, the fire will not start without a proper catalyst. What we do know is that an event WILL occur, it is only a function of “when.” The discussion of why “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant. Whatever gains that investors garner in the between now and the next correction by chasing the “bullish thesis” will be wiped away in a swift and brutal downdraft.

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Abe should just go. But before he does, he’ll throw Kuroda under the bus first, if he has the time.

Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)

Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada, 58, an Abe protege who shares his conservative views and had been suggested as a possible future premier, had already expected to be replaced in a likely cabinet reshuffle next week that Abe hopes will help rebuild his ratings. Support for the prime minister has sunk below 30% in some polls, due to scandals over suspected cronyism and a view among many voters that he and his aides took them for granted.

Abe apologized “to the people from my heart”, in comments to reporters carried live on national television after Inada announced her resignation. He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defense portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as from a volatile North Korea. “I want to make every effort to maintain a high degree of vigilance and protect the security of the people,” Abe said. Abe had drawn fire from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers for retaining Inada despite her perceived incompetence. “He should have thrown Inada under the bus long ago … doing so on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle only looks like desperation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

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Taking it out before the real big scandals come up?

Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)

A global borrowing benchmark that became synonymous with rigged financial markets, and cost banks some $9 billion in fines, is going away. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said in a speech today that the regulator will phase out the indicator, Libor, by the end of 2021. Bailey said the reason the London interbank offered rate is being scrapped is because the market underpinning the benchmark—unsecured bank lending—has dried up. For one particular Libor benchmark—there are many rates for various durations and currencies—there were only 15 transactions last year, he said. Such benchmarks have long been problematic and susceptible to manipulation. Libor, for example, is based on an estimate of what supposed experts at banks think a borrowing rate would be.

Bloomberg describes the process like this: “The benchmark is the average rate a group of 20 banks estimate they’d be able to borrow funds from each other in five different currencies across seven time periods, submitted by a panel of lenders every morning. Its administration was overhauled in the wake of the scandal, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. taking over from the then-named British Bankers’ Association.” Before the financial crisis, banks submitted daily estimates of borrowing rates to the BBA, which then averaged them to calculate that day’s Libor rate. Via allegedly colluding, the banks submitting rates could nudge the average up or down, depending on what was needed to increase a profit or reduce a loss in their portfolios.

Libor is of global importance because it’s used to help determine borrowing costs for more than $300 trillion in securities, for things like student loans and mortgages. But as a trader once said in a transcript uncovered by regulators, it’s “just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.” The Libor scandal was also part of an era in which recorded electronic communications—chat messages—became evidence and got a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Similar market manipulation was discovered in things like foreign-currency exchange rates and commodity prices. And now Libor is being scrapped. Banks didn’t really want to participate in the rate-setting process anymore anyway, Bailey said, given the market had shrank by so much. (Their recent history of being fined billions for their role in daily rate submissions probably didn’t help.) Some new indicator will have to be agreed on.

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When I saw the headline, I thought they must either have been real inefficient before, or they’re selling teh kitchen sink and not investing a penny. And whaddaya know?

Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)

Royal Dutch Shell has reported a large rise in second quarter profits after the energy giant was boosted by higher oil and gas prices. The firm said adjusted earnings rose from £800m to £2.7bn, an increase of 245 per cent, as chief executive Ben van Beurden said he is making progress on “reshaping the company”. He said: “Cash generation has been resilient over four consecutive quarters, at an average oil price of just under $50 per barrel. “The external price environment and energy sector developments mean we will remain very disciplined, with an absolute focus on the four levers within our control, namely capital efficiency, costs, new project delivery, and divestments.

“I am confident that we are on track to deliver a world-class investment to our shareholders.” The figures were flattered by a disastrous second quarter in 2016, when it was stung by dilapidated crude prices and costs linked to its takeover of BG Group. This time last year Brent Crude was trading at round 45 US dollars a barrel compared to circa 50 US dollars today. Shell is also embarking on an ambitious cost-cutting drive and a £24.6bn divestment initiative. To this end, the oil major has sold off more than £16bn of assets since the BG takeover. Shell this year announced it will sell off a package of North Sea assets for up to £3bn to smaller rival Chrysaor, and recently agreed to sell its stake in Irish gas project Corrib in a deal worth up to £956 million.

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Everybody does it.

Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)

Caution lights are flashing for the oil industry. Facing lower-than-expected commodity prices, drillers from ConocoPhillips to Hess to Statoil have slashed their capital spending plans in recent days, as companies lay out their plans to cope with oil prices stuck below $50 a barrel. The budget cuts won’t necessarily mean less oil or natural gas on the market, with some of the companies saying they can now do more with less and expect to produce just as much oil and gas in 2017. But they speak to an investor community that’s grown anxious as a global rally in crude prices has stalled out this year.

“The expectation was that oil would be at least above $50 by this time,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “Right now, the market wants you to spend within your cash flow, no exceptions allowed. It’s just a response to that.” The “modest tweaks” in this week’s second-quarter earnings reports will probably continue in the coming days, Youngberg said, as drillers focused on U.S. shale plays take center stage. “Companies are going to be cautious,” he said. “No one wants to be the outlier.”

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The Mt. Gox link is interesting. Will BTC-e also close?

US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)

A US jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the US Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. US officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011.

They alleged Vinnik and his firm “received” more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.

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Robert Fisk is part of our conscience.

The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)

I don’t like armies. They are dangerous institutions. Soldiers are not heroes just because they fight. And I’ve grown tired of saying that those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. But in an age when the Americans and the Iraqis and Isis can account for 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul in the past twelve months, compared to 50,000 civilians slaughtered by the Mongols in 13th-century Aleppo – a human rights improvement of US aircrews, Iraqi brutality and Isis sadism over the Mongol hordes by a mere 10,000 souls – death sometimes seems to have lost its meaning. Unless you know the victims or their families. I have a friend whose mother was murdered in the Damascus suburb of Harasta near the start of the Syrian war, another whose brother-in-law was kidnapped east of the city and never seen again.

I met a little girl whose mother and small brother were shot down by al-Nusrah killers in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and a Lebanese who believes his nephew was hanged in a Syrian jail. And then, this month, in the eastern Syrian desert, near the dust-swept shack village of al-Arak, a Syrian soldier I’d come to know was killed by Isis. He was, of course, a soldier in the army of the Syrian regime. He was a general in an army constantly accused of war crimes by the same nation – the United States – whose air strikes contributed so generously to the obscene massacre in Mosul. But General Fouad Khadour was a professional soldier and he was defending the oil fields of eastern Syria – the crown jewels of Syria’s economy, which was why Isis tried to occupy them all and why they killed Khadour – and the war in the desert is not a dirty war like so many of the conflicts perpetrated in Syria.

When I met him west of Palmyra, Isis had just conquered the ancient Roman city and publicly chopped or blown off the heads of the civilians and soldiers and civil servants who did not manage to flee. Just a year before, the general’s son, also a soldier, had been shot dead in battle in Homs. Fouad Khadour merely nodded when I mentioned this. He wanted to talk about the war in the hot, brown mountains south of Palmyra, where he was teaching his soldiers to fight back against the Isis suicide attackers, to defend their isolated positions around the oil pumping and electricity transmission station where he was based, and to save the T4 pipelines on the road to Homs. The Americans, who proclaimed Isis to be an “apocalyptic” force, sneered that the Syrian army did not fight Isis. But Khadour and his men were standing up to Isis before the Americans ever fired a missile, and learning the only lesson that soldiers can understand when confronted by a horrific enemy: not to be afraid.

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The idea is not exactly new. But Macron wants to go it alone.

France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)

France says it plans to set up “hotspots” in Libya to process asylum seekers, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. President Emmanuel Macron said the move would stop people not eligible for asylum from “taking crazy risks”. The centres would be ready “this summer”. He said that between 800,000 and a million people were currently in camps in Libya hoping to get into Europe. But many of them did not have a right to asylum, Mr Macron said. The French leader said that migrants were destabilising Libya and Europe by fuelling people-smuggling, which in turn funded terrorism. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” he said on Thursday at a naturalisation ceremony in the central city of Orléans.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron mediated talks in Paris between Libya’s opposing governments. UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the rival military commander who controls the east, committed to a conditional ceasefire after the meeting. They are aiming to end the conflict which has engulfed the country since Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011. Mr Macron and other EU leaders had been hoping for some sort of agreement, as Libya has become a key route for migrants making their way to Europe. The French leader said he hoped the deal would be a blow to the human traffickers who work in the region.

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This is not over. Macron wants to show he’s a tough guy, but pushing aside Italy is bad theater.

Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)

Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “We have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger. “Italian pleas for more burden-sharing by other EU countries have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17% increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

This month, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.” French police are blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme. Macron this month talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won’t admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn’t being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north. Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France. “The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

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I’ve said it before: help for refugees in fine, even though its distribution through NGOs is a colossal mess. But renting homes for refugees, and supplying them with money to live, is a huge blow in the face of the Greeks devastated by EU-induced austerity, who get nothing.

EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country. The €209 million ($243 million) package includes a €151 million program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens. The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of €401 million.

The rental project is in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands. A parallel scheme worth €57.6 million will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication. “The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around €1.3 billion of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

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Jul 262017
 
 July 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Greyed Rainbow 1953

 

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)
Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)
Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)
There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)
Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)
US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)
The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)
Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)
Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)
Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)
Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)
Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

 

 

The article is somewhat confusing to me, bear of little brain and unpopular in China. But it’s good to make the point that bubbles spark poverty.

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)

Sometime in the late 1980s, a friend who was on the libertarian right of the Conservative Party explained the idea of the property-owning democracy to me. The point, he said, was to detach the respectable working class from their poorer neighbours, encourage them to identify with the middle-class and thereby turn them into Tories. It worked for a while. Middle earners had been doing relatively well since the 1970s and home ownership was within the reach of many once mortgages became more readily available. Helped along by cheap council house sales, home ownership rose. In recent years, though, things have started shifting back the other way. The property-owning democracy is now looking like a one-off event rather than the ongoing process it was meant to be. Property analyst Neal Hudson pointed out that, as a proportion of all tenure, home ownership peaked in 2003 but mortgage ownership peaked in 1996. As older property owners paid off their housing debts, they were not being replaced at the same rate by new mortgagors.

[..] As the Resolution Foundation comments: The typical mortgagor AHC income is now twice that of the typical social renter, and over the past decade this income has grown by 17% compared to just 4% growth for the typical private renter. Even more than was the case before the financial crisis, the living standards split between those who own their own home and those who do not has become a key divide. While the proportion of households owning their own homes has fallen generally, that decline has been sharper among those on low to middle incomes. (Defined by the Resolution Foundation as working-age households with someone in work but with less than the median household income.) In the mid 1990s, over half of those on low to middle incomes were mortgagors. Now that has fallen to a third. Over the same period, private renting among this group rose.

Last week’s report on poverty and inequality by the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that most of those in poverty (defined as income less than 60% of the median) are now from households where someone is in work. “[R]elative poverty among children and working-age adults has increased and, over the past 20 years or so, has increasingly become an in-work phenomenon due to declines in worklessness, low earnings growth and widening earnings inequality.”

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What bubble?

Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)

Great news ‘Murica – your house has never been worth more than it was in May (according to Case-Shiller’s national home price index). On the slightly less silver-lining side of the equation, April’s 0.28% gain in price was revised to 0.18% MoM drop and May’s proint disappointed at just 0.1% rise MoM. The 20-city property values index increased 5.7% y/y (est. 5.8%). All cities in the index showed year-over-year gains, led by a 13.3% advance in Seattle, an 8.9% increase in Portland and a 7.9% gain in Denver.

After seasonal adjustment, Seattle had the biggest month-over-month increase, at 0.9%, while New York posted a 0.6% decline. “Home prices continue to climb and outpace both inflation and wages,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “The small supply of homes for sale, at only about four months’ worth, is one cause of rising prices. New home construction, higher than during the recession but still low, is another factor in rising prices.”

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Just keep paying the piper.

Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)

The astronomical bubble in Australian housing prices has generated plenty of commentary regarding the current lack of affordability. This state of affairs clearly concerns aspiring home buyers everywhere, and Sydney and Melbourne in particular. First home buyers (FHBs) face almost insurmountable odds: the highest price to income and deposit to income ratios, the lowest savings rates, runaway dwelling prices, weak wage growth, including a political and economic establishment hell-bent on ensuring land prices keep on inflating no matter the wider cost to the economy. The legion of vested interests – basically 99% of commentators – choose to contend housing is actually more affordable today than back in the days of high mortgage interest rates, especially when rates peaked at 17% in 1989.

This is demonstrated by the standard mortgage payment to household income formula shown above, assuming 80% loan to value ratio (LVR). Their contention is bogus, however, because the metric is a static one, displaying mortgage payments to income at a particular point in time. The peak in 1989, for instance, is very high if, and only if, prices, interest rates and incomes remain constant over the life of the mortgage. Yet, these variables change by the next period. So, a more dynamic approach is required to assess housing affordability. The correct method was advocated by Glenn Stevens in 1997, Guy Debelle in 2004 and other economists like Dean Baker, who identified the US housing bubble and predicted the Global Financial Crisis in 2002. The important factor to consider is the effect wage inflation has upon mortgage payments.

While high mortgage interest rates result in large mortgage payments relative to income, this only occurs in the early years of the mortgage as high wage growth inflates away the burden. In contrast, borrowers facing high housing prices with low interest rates and poor wage growth face a greater burden across the life of the mortgage due to greater payments to income. This housing affordability analysis is applied to long-term annual data between 1880 and 2016, anchored to the median house price at an LVR of 80% at the start of each decade thereon. While data on mortgage interest rates and wage growth for the years after 2016 cannot be known, they are assumed to hold still at the present rates: 5.4% for the mortgage interest rate and 1.4% for wages. The following chart illustrates the outcome of applying this method, demonstrating the proportion of aggregate mortgage payments to household income over the 25 years of the mortgage. The results are overpowering.

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Well, that’s what Draghi’s QE guarantees.

There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)

The ECB needs to beware of raising interest rates too quickly as there are a significant number of “zombie firms” in Europe that have become too dependent on cheap credit, according to analysis by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Barnaby Martin, head of European Credit Strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch, said businesses in Europe which have benefited from the ECB’s corporate bond purchase program would struggle once the bank raises interest rates, expected sometime in 2018. “The worst kept secret in the market is Mario Draghi is going to be tapering monetary policy next year and yet last week he was super, super dovish so I think that we’ve forgotten that monetary policy in Europe is on its way out,” he told CNBC on Tuesday, adding “there’s clearly political pressure for him to move away from this extraordinary era.”

“So the question becomes ‘can we handle a rapid rise in interest rates?’,” he said. ECB stimulus measures as part of its quantitative easing program designed to boost the European economy currently amount to €60 billion ($69.9 billion) a month. Some of this money goes into purchasing corporate bonds. While these purchases have enabled companies to continue to operate and invest, aiding a recovery in the European economy, the bank’s purchases have been credited for keeping ailing companies alive, hence the name “zombies.” The ECB started purchasing corporate bonds in June 2016 as part of its “corporate sector purchase program” (CSPP) and, as of June 7, 2017, its CSPP holdings stood at €92 billion, the bank said.

In a note examining “The rise of the Zombies” BofA Merrill Lynch’s credit strategists Martin, Ionnis Angelakis and Souhair Asba noted that 9% of non-financial companies in Europe (by market cap of Stoxx 600) are zombies, with “very weak interest coverage metrics.” “Note that this is still quite a high number: It was around 6% pre-Lehman, and fell to 5% in late 2013 after the peripheral crisis had faded,” they said. “The plethora of monetary support in Europe over the last 5 years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults.” The analyst team also noted that bond issuance had been concentrated in “the hands of a few.” “Year-to-date, the top 20 bonds issuers have accounted for 40% of supply. In 2015 and 2016, the number was closer to 25%. The result has been that “superfirms” have been quietly building across the credit market,” they noted.

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“The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)

Almost 40% of corporate investments channelled away from authorities and into tax havens travel through the UK or the Netherlands, according to a study of the ownership structures of 98m firms. The two EU states are way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of being a preferred option for corporations who want to exploit tax havens to protect their investments. The Netherlands was a conduit for 23% of corporate investments that ended in a tax haven, a team of researchers at the University of Amsterdam concluded. The UK accounted for 14%, ahead of Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%). Every year multinationals avoid paying £38bn-£158bn in taxes in the EU using tax havens. In the US, tax evasion by multinational corporations via offshore jurisdictions is estimated to be at least $130bn (£99bn) a year.

The researchers reported that there were 24 so-called “sink” offshore financial centres where foreign capital was ultimately stored, safe from the tax authorities. Of those, 18 are said to have a current or past dependence to the UK, such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. The tax havens used correlated heavily to which conduit country was chosen by the multinational’s accountants. The UK is a major conduit for investments going to European countries and former members of the British Empire, such as Hong Kong, Jersey, Guernsey or Bermuda, reflecting the historical links and tax treaties enjoyed by firms setting up in Britain. The Netherlands is a principal conduit for investment ending in Cyprus and Bermuda, among others. Switzerland is used as a conduit to Jersey. Ireland is the route for Japanese and American companies to Luxembourg.

[..] Dr Eelke Heemskerk, who led the research, said that the work showed the importance of developed countries cleaning up their financial sectors. He said: “In the context of Brexit, where you have the UK threatening, unless they get a deal, to change their model to be attractive to companies who want to protect themselves from taxes, well, they are already doing it. “The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

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Russia’s getting an invaluable lesson in self-suffciency. There’s nothing like it.

US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)

Congress moved Tuesday to step up sanctions on a shrinking Russian economy that is already struggling under the weight of low oil prices, high inflation and a battered currency that has sent capital fleeing. In response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the House voted overwhelmingly to tighten existing economic sanctions imposed in 2014 following the Russian invasion of Crimea. Among other things, the measures freeze assets and prohibit transactions with specific Russian companies and individuals, restrict financial transactions with Russian firms, and ban certain exports that are used in oil and gas exploration or have possible military uses.

Those 2014 U.S. sanctions were paired with related measures imposed by the European Union, which placed restrictions on business with Russia’s financial, defense and energy sectors. Today, Russia’s economy is still feeling the harsh impact of those measures, which coincided with a crash in global oil prices that cut deeply into revenues from the country’s main export. The loss of oil revenues – a drop of as much as 60%, according to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report — helped spark a collapse in Russia’s currency, the ruble, sending the prices of Russian consumer goods soaring. The Russian economy has also been hurt by a wave of capital flight out of the country, as individual Russians sought to move money offshore and convert their shrinking rubles to dollars and euros to protect their wealth. That money flow slowed in 2014 as U.S. and European sanctions took hold.

Though U.S. sanctions have put pressure on the Russian economy, the impact on American business has been limited because Russia makes up less than 1% of U.S. exports. Only six U.S states count Russia as a significant market for goods and services. Washington, the most reliant, sells roughly 1% of its total exports to Russia, consisting mostly of machinery and farm products. That’s half the level before the 2014 sanctions took effect. European nations, which export greater volumes to Russia than the U.S., imposed their own set of sanctions response to the Crimean annexation.

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“The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic..”

The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)

We are looking more and more like France on the eve of its revolution in 1789. Our classes are distributed differently, but the inequity is just as sharp. America’s “aristocracy,” once based strictly on bank accounts, acts increasingly hereditary as the vapid offspring and relations of “stars” (in politics, showbiz, business, and the arts) assert their prerogatives to fame, power, and riches — think the voters didn’t grok the sinister import of Hillary’s “it’s my turn” message? What’s especially striking in similarity to the court of the Bourbons is the utter cluelessness of America’s entitled power elite to the agony of the moiling masses below them and mainly away from the coastal cities. Just about everything meaningful has been taken away from them, even though many of the material trappings of existence remain: a roof, stuff that resembles food, cars, and screens of various sizes.

But the places they are supposed to call home are either wrecked — the original small towns and cities of America — or replaced by new “developments” so devoid of artistry, history, thought, care, and charm that they don’t add up to communities, and are so obviously unworthy of affection, that the very idea of “home” becomes a cruel joke. These places were bad enough in the 1960s and 70s, when the people who lived in them at least were able to report to paying jobs assembling products and managing their distribution. Now those people don’t have that to give a little meaning to their existence, or cover the costs of it. Public space was never designed into the automobile suburbs, and the sad remnants of it were replaced by ersatz substitutes, like the now-dying malls. Everything else of a public and human associational nature has been shoved into some kind of computerized box with a screen on it.

The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic, while the elites who create all this vicious crap spend millions to consort face-to-face in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard telling each other how wonderful they are for providing all the artificial social programming and glitzy hardware for their paying customers. The effect of this dynamic relationship so far has been powerfully soporific. You can deprive people of a true home for a while, and give them virtual friends on TV to project their emotions onto, and arrange to give them cars via some financing scam or other to keep them moving mindlessly around an utterly desecrated landscape under the false impression that they’re going somewhere — but we’re now at the point where ordinary people can’t even carry the costs of keeping themselves hostage to these degrading conditions.

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The kind of independence that tends to be bad for a man’s health.

Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has been highlighting his government’s independence from international money lending organizations and their detrimental impact the nation, the Telesur TV reported. “A day like today in 1944 ended Bretton Woods Economic Conference (USA), in which the IMF and WB were established,” Morales tweeted. “These organizations dictated the economic fate of Bolivia and the world. Today we can say that we have total independence of them.” Morales has said Bolivia’s past dependence on the agencies was so great that the IMF had an office in government headquarters and even participated in their meetings. Bolivia is now in the process of becoming a member of the Southern Common Market, Mercosur and Morales attended the group’s summit in Argentina last week.

Bolivia’s popular uprising known as the The Cochabamba Water War in 2000 against United States-based Bechtel Corporation over water privatization and the associated World Bank policies shed light on some of the debt issues facing the region. Some of Bolivia’s largest resistance struggles in the last 60 years have targeted the economic policies carried out by the IMF and the World Bank. Most of the protests focused on opposing privatization policies and austerity measures, including cuts to public services, privatization decrees, wage reductions, as well the weakening of labor rights. Since 2006, a year after Morales came to power, social spending on health, education, and poverty programs has increased by over 45%.

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A tour de force by Bill Mitchell. Germany’s profiting so much off of Greece’s despair that it can hide its own economic pitholes with it.

Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)

Effectively the “German Federal Government – through KfW” is providing funds to Greece as part of the bailout. On May 20, 2014, the KfW issued a further press statement – Institution for Growth in Greece (IfG) – which further details the way in which German government bailout support is channeled through the KfW. For example, in relation to the “three planned IfG sub-funds … The Hellenic Republic and KfW — on behalf of the German Federal Government — will each contribute EUR 100 million in funding debt to this sub-fund.” Clear enough. The Süddeutsche Zeitung article says that since 2010, these loans granted to Greece through the KfW have generated 393 million euros of interest income net of refinancing costs [..] A handy sum. And what is more – the profits generated have not been transferred to the Greek government.

Further gains were made on the Greek bailouts via the ECB’s Securities Market Program (SMP), which has generated German gains of around $€952 million, through ECB distributions of the profits to the Member State central banks. A similar story appeared in the English-version of the Handelsbatt next day (July 12, 2017) – Germany Profits From Greek Debt Crisis. It essentially sourced the Süddeutsche Zeitung and made the story more accessible (repeating it in English). It says that: “The German government has long been accused by critics of profiting from Greece’s debt crisis. Now there are some new numbers to back it up: Loans and bonds purchased in support of Greece over nearly a decade have resulted in profits of €1.34 billion for Germany’s finance ministry.”

The issue became public because the Greens parliamentary representatives have challenged the morality of the German government’s decision not to redistribute the profits and the role played by the KfW. The Greens representative was reported as saying that: “The profits from collecting interest must be paid out to Greece … Wolfgang Schäuble cannot use the Greek profits to clean up Germany’s federal budget …” It has long been claimed that “Greece’s crisis has helped” Schäuble keep the German fiscal balance in surplus. The KfW have been part of that. We knew back in 2015 that the KfW was helping the Finance Ministry generate fiscal surpluses.

On March 5, 2015, the German daily newspaper Rheinische Post published a report – So geht es den Griechen wirklich – presented a summary of a 40-page document that the German Finance Ministry had provided in response to a demand for information from the Linksfraktion (German Left Party Die Linke). The Finance Ministry document conceded that: “Between 2010 to 2014, the KfW has paid out around 360 million euro in revenues to the German government and in the coming years the federal government is expecting around 20 million euro per year on interest revenues.”

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The Greek economy is worse than ever, but now people trust it?

Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)

Why do I refuse to be impressed by the news of Greece’s return to the markets? “It is because the Greek state and the Greek banks remain deeply insolvent. And, their return to the money markets is a harbinger of the next terrible phase of Greece’s crisis, rather than a cause for celebration”. The above was my answer in a BBC interview on 9th April… 2014! It is also the only answer that fits today’s announcement of Greece’s new bond issue. Indeed, why script a new article, when that old post offers a most helpful response to the question: “What should the world think of Greece’s new bond issue?”

The only thing I need to add to these circa 2014 posts is this: The Tsipras government today is simply rolling over precisely the same bond that the Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras government issued in 2014 – the subject matter of my criticism above. This is a remarkable U-turn by Mr Tsipras and his ministers. In 2014 they had sided entirely with my criticism of the then government’s argument that Greece’s return to the markets, with the issue of that one bond, was a sign the country was achieving escape velocity from the gravitational pull of its debt-deflationary crisis. Now, they are not only parroting the same arguments as Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras but they are, lo and behold, rolling over the same bond! I rest my case.

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It’s not that hard.

Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)

Nine out of 10 people want supermarkets to introduce a “plastic-free aisle”, according to a new poll amid rising concern about pollution. The survey – of 2,000 British adults by Populus – was commissioned by campaign group A Plastic Planet, which said it was clear that the public wanted an alternative to “goods laden with plastic packaging”. Evidence of the synthetic substance’s harmful effects on the natural world is growing. Since 1950, humans have produced 8.3 billion tons of the stuff, with 6.3 billion tons being sent to landfill sites or simply being dumped in what scientists described as an “uncontrolled experiment” on the planet. Plastic, which acts like a magnet for toxic chemicals in the environment, breaks down into tiny pieces that are capable of passing through animals’ gut walls and into their body tissue.

The UN warned in a report last year that “the presence of microplastic in foodstuffs could potentially increase direct exposure of plastic-associated chemicals to humans and may present an attributable risk to human health”. A third of seabirds in the North Sea were also found to be suffering “widespread breeding failure”, largely because of plastic waste. The new poll found 91% of people supported aisles free from plastic packaging and 81% said they were concerned “about the amount of plastic packaging that is thrown away in the UK”. Sian Sutherland, a co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Great British public wants a fresh alternative to goods laden with plastic packaging. Too much of our plastic waste ends up in oceans and landfill.

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Am I a bad person for thinking that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing? Who wants more of us?

I like the term “semen parameters”. Name for a band. Double billing with Pussy Riot.

Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

Sperm counts have plunged by nearly 60% in just 40 years among men living in the West, according to a major review of scientific studies that suggests the modern world is causing serious damage to men’s health. Pesticides, hormone-disrupting chemicals, diet, stress, smoking and obesity have all been “plausibly associated” with the problem, which is associated with a range of other illnesses such as testicular cancer and a generally increased mortality rate. The researchers who carried out the review said the rate of decline had showed no sign of “levelling off” in recent years. The same trend was not seen in other parts of the world such as South America, Africa and Asia, although the scientists said fewer studies had been carried out there.

One expert commenting on the study said it was the “most comprehensive to date”, and described the figures as “shocking” and a “wake-up call” for urgent research into the reasons driving the fall. Writing in the journal Human Reproduction Update, the researchers – from Israel, the US, Denmark, Brazil and Spain – said total sperm count had fallen by 59.3% between 1971 and 2011 in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Sperm concentration fell by 52.4%. “Sperm count and other semen parameters have been plausibly associated with multiple environmental influences, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, pesticides, heat and lifestyle factors, including diet, stress, smoking and body-mass index,” the paper said. “Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impacts of the modern environment on male health throughout the life course.”

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Jul 252017
 
 July 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Walter Langley Never morning wore to evening but some heart did break 1894

 

If there’s one myth -and there are many- that we should invalidate in the cross-over world of politics and economics, it‘s that central banks have saved us from a financial crisis. It’s a carefully construed myth, but it’s as false as can be. Our central banks have caused our financial crises, not saved us from them.

It really should -but doesn’t- make us cringe uncontrollably to see Bank of England governor-for-hire Mark Carney announce -straightfaced- that:

“A decade after the start of the global financial crisis, G20 reforms are building a safer, simpler and fairer financial system. “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis. They were fundamental and deep-seated, which is why it was such a major job.”

Or, for that matter, to see Fed chief Janet Yellen declare that there won’t be another financial crisis in her lifetime, while she’s busy-bee busy building that next crisis as we speak. These people are now saying increasingly crazy things, and that should make us pause.

Central banks don’t serve people, or even societies, as that same myth claims. They serve banks. Even if central bankers themselves believe that this is one and the same thing, that doesn’t make it true. And if they don’t understand this, they should never be let anywhere near the positions they hold.

You can pin the moment central banks went awry at any point in time you like. The Bank of England’s foundation in 1694, the Federal Reserve’s in 1913, the ECB much more recently. What’s crucial in the timing is where and when the best interests of the banks split off from those of their societies. Because that is when central banks will stop serving those societies. We are at such a -turning?!- point right now. And it’s been coming for some time, ‘slowly’ working its way towards an inevitable abyss.

Over the past few years the Automatic Earth has argues repeatedly, along several different avenues, that American society was at its richest between the late 1960s and early 1980s. Yet another illustration of this came only yesterday in a Lance Roberts graph:

 

 

Anyone see a recovery in there? Lance uses 1981 as a ‘cut-off’ date, but the GDP growth rate as represented by the dotted line doesn’t really begin to go ‘bad’ until 1986 or so. At the tail end of the late 1960s to early 1980s period, as the American economy was inexorably getting poorer, Alan Greenspan took over as Federal Reserve governor in 1987. A narrative was carefully crafted by and for the media with Greenspan as an ‘oracle’ or even a ‘rock star’, but in reality he has been instrumental in saddling the economy with what will turn out to be insurmountable problems.

Greenspan was a major driving force behind the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which was finally established through the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act of 1999. This was an open political act by the Federal Reserve governor, something that everyone should have then protested, and still should now, but didn’t and doesn’t. Central bankers should be kept far removed from politics, anywhere and everywhere, because they represent a small segment of society, banks, not society as a whole.

Because of the ‘oracle’ narrative, Greenspan was instead praised for saving the world. But all that Greenspan and his accomplices, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, actually did in getting rid of the 1933 Glass-Steagall act separation between investment- and consumer banking was to open the floodgates of debt, and even more importantly, leveraged debt. All part of the ‘financial innovations’ Greenspan famously lauded for saving and growing economies. It was all just more debt on top of more debt.

 

 

Greenspan et al ‘simply’ did what central bankers do: they represent the best interests of banks. And the world’s central bankers have never looked back. That most people still find it hard to believe that America -and the west- has been getting poorer for the past 30-40 years, goes to show how effective the narratives have been. The world looks richer instead of poorer, after all. That this is exclusively because of rising debt numbers wherever you look is not part of the narratives. Indeed, ruling economic models and theories ignore the role played by both banks and credit in an economy, almost entirely.

Alan Greenspan left as Fed head in 2006, after having wreaked his havoc on America for almost two decades, right before the financial crisis that took off in 2007-2008 became apparent to the world at large. The crisis was largely his doing, but he has escaped just about all the blame for it. Good PR.

With Ben Bernanke, an alleged academic genius on the Great Depression, as Greenspan’s replacement, the Fed just kept going and turned it up a notch. It was no longer possible in the financial world to pretend that banks and people had the same interests, so the former were bailed out at the expense of the latter. The illusionary narrative for the public, however, remained intact. What do people know about finance, anyway? Just make sure the S&P goes up. Easy as pie.

The narrative has switched to Bernanke, and Yellen after him, as well as Mario Draghi at the ECB and Haruhiko Kuroda at the Bank of Japan, saving the world from doom. But once again, they are the ones who are creating the crisis, not the ones saving us from it. They are saving the banks, and saddling the people with the costs.

In the past decade, these central bankers have purchased $20-$50 trillion in bonds, securities and stocks. The only intention, and indeed the only result, is to keep banks from falling over, increase their profits, and maintain the illusion that economies are recovering and growing.

They can only achieve this by creating bubbles wherever they can. Apart from the QE programs under which they bought all those ‘assets’, they used -and still do- another tool: lowering interest rates to the point where borrowing money becomes so cheap everyone can do it, and then do it some more. It has worked miracles in blowing stock market valuations out of all realistic proportions, and in doing the same for housing markets in locations all over the globe.

The role of China’s central bank in this is interesting too, but it is such an open and obvious political tool that it really deserves its own discussion and narrative. Basically, Beijing did what it saw Washington do and thought: why hold back?

 

Fast forward to today and we see that we’ve landed in a whole new, and next, phase of the story. The world’s central banks are all stuck in their own – self-created – bubbles and narratives. They all talk about how they solved all the issues, and how they will now return to normal, but the sad truth is they can’t and they know it.

The Fed stopped purchasing assets through its QE program a while back, but it could only do that because Frankfurt and Japan took over. And now they, too, talk about quitting QE. Slowly, yada yada, because of control, yada yada, but they know they must. They also know they can’t. Because the entire recovery narrative is a mirage, a fata morgana, a sleight of hand.

And that means we have arrived at a point that is new and very dangerous for the entire global economy and all of its people.

 

That is, the world’s central bankers now have an incentive to create the next crisis. This is because they know this crisis is inevitable, and they know their masters and protégés, the banks, risk suffering immensely or even going under. ‘Tapering’, or whatever you might call the -slow- end to QE and the -slow- hiking of interest rates, will prick and blow up bubbles one by one, and often in violent fashion.

When housing bubbles burst, economies lose the primary ingredient for maintaining -let alone increasing- their money supply: banks creating money out of thin hot air. Since the money supply is one of the key components of inflation, along with velocity of money, there will be fantastic outbursts of debt deflation. You’ve never seen -let alone imagined- anything like it.

The worst part of it is not government debt, though that, when financed with bond sales, is not not an instrument to infinity and beyond either. But the big hit to economies will be private debt. Where in many bubble areas, and they’re too numerous too mention, eager potential buyers today fret over affordable housing supply, it’ll all turn on a dime and owners won’t be able to sell without being suffocated by crippling losses.

Pension funds, which have already suffered perhaps more than any other parties because of low interest ZIRP and NIRP policies, have switched en masse to riskier assets like stocks. Well, another whammy, and a bigger one, is waiting just outside the door. Pensions will be so last century.

 

That another crisis is waiting to happen, and that politics and media have made sure that just about no-one at all is aware of it, is one thing. We already knew this, a few of us. That the world’s main central bankers have an active incentive to bring about the crisis, if only by sitting on their hands long enough, is new. But they do.

Yellen, Draghi and Kuroda may opt to leave before pulling the trigger, or be fired soon enough. But whoever is in the governor seats will realize that unleashing a crisis sooner rather than later is the only option left not to be blamed for it. Let the house of dominoes crumble now, and they can say “nobody could have seen this coming”, while at the same time saving what they can for the banks and bankers they serve. That option will not be on the table for much longer.

We should have never given them, let alone their member/master banks, the power to conjure up trillions out of nothing, and use that power as a political tool. But it is too late now.